It matters not if you think the National Cherry Festival is the cherries or the pits. There is no getting away from the fact that the festival is this town’s Big Deal.
An estimated 500,000 people attend each year and the festival generates millions of dollars in revenue for businesses across the Grand Traverse region, well beyond Traverse City.
The festival is also a media magnet, earning more than 300 mentions or feature stories in dozens of publications across the country, from the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic magazine, the New York Times, Runners World Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine and dozens of newspapers, such as the the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Chicago Sun Times.
That coverage — virtually all of it praising the food, the festival and the region’s natural beauty – helps drive not just festival visitors but tourism the rest of the year.
In short, the festival is a financial and social juggernaut. While some locals just want to get out of town to avoid the crowds, hundreds of others — nearly 2,000 by the Cherry Festival’s count — not only embrace the festival but put in hours and hours of their own time (up to 20,000 hours per year) and effort to make it happen.
It is no exaggeration to say that without its army of volunteers, there would be no Cherry Festival.
Right now, the festival is hoping to recruit a few more nonprofit groups to take on various tasks in return for payments to their group Twenty-seven nonprofits have signed up for the Community Share Program, but more spots are available.
For many area residents, being part of the festival is the highlight of their summer. Volunteering is a family affair for some, with multiple generations stepping up to do the hard work the rest of us take for granted.