Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Holidays 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Ludington has many charms but one of the best is its New Year’s Eve panache.
The city nestled at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River on the western Lake Michigan shoreline rings in the new year in style with its Light Up the Lake New Year’s Eve Celebration.
A mix of locals and visitors attend the annual event, said downtown LudingtonCommunications and Marketing Manager Jen Tooman. While many area hotels close during the winter, those that remain open are usually filled with guests.
“It always depends on the weather and the day of the week it falls on, but we’re usually in the 8,000-10,000 realm,” Tooman said. “It’s one of my favorite events. It’s a good vibe, lots of people.”
In fact, the party attracts as many people as live in the city in the winter months.
Downtown Ludington, with help from the police department, closes part of Ludington Avenue and James Street for the event. Tooman said they usually start erecting barricades around 6 or 7 p.m.
The ball — a multicolored, LED orb measuring 5 or 6 feet in diameter — often goes up into the sky around the same time.
“We’ve discussed making it bigger, but it’s pretty awesome the way it is,” she said.
Many people might be afraid to come because of the weather forecast, but Tooman said they should brave the elements. The tents are heated and many businesses function as “warming stations” prior to the ball drop.
Buses and towing companies even provide free transportation for locals and visitors through the Safe Rides program started by local law enforcement. The program is funded through donations.
“We want to make sure everybody has a good time and stays safe,” Tooman said.
“It’s definitely family friendly. It really is a cozy, positive atmosphere. Dress like you’re going skiing and join us. It’s worth it.”
The 11th annual Light Up the Lake New Year’s Eve Celebration starts at 9 p.m. Dec. 31 on Ludington Avenue. The event also includes live music and a beer tent for adults. Attendees can preorder light-up cups and drink tokens, which can be picked up at city hall prior to the event.
Andrew Skinner, a Pentwater resident and Ludington Area Center for the Arts operations manager, said plans for the center are still in the works but he hopes to host a show there prior to the city’s big New Year’s Event.
“We’re looking into a concert as a way to add to the festivities downtown,” Skinner said, adding that musical events also are a way to show off the center’s new sound system, which was installed in the performance hall last year.
The center also offers a variety of programs for people in the area during the holiday season. Skinner said events include the arts and crafts fair and Motown Christmas concert on Nov. 30 and the free “Home for the Holidays” concert on Dec. 14.
Visitors who arrive in Ludington early for the New Year’s Eve celebration can view the juried fiber art exhibition in the LACA gallery. Area artists present their quilts, fabric and other works, Skinner said.
Hands-on activities also are available for kids. Sandcastles Children’s Museum hosts the New Year’s Eve Balloon Drop and Stomp from 5-8 p.m. Dec. 31. The evening includes conga music, food, party favors, crafts and balloon drops.
Additionally, Mason County District Library is open from 7-11:30 p.m. for a free party. Families are invited to play video games, board games and with LEGOs. Afterward, people can walk to the ball drop.
Visitors can also check out local landmarks like the S.S. Badger carferry and three lighthouses: the North Breakwater Light, Big Sable Lighthouse and Little Sable Lighthouse.
The Pere Marquette Memorial, located south of Ludington on the Buttersville Peninsula, is another site to visit. The large white cross was erected in memory of the place where the missionary died.
The Mason County Sculpture Trail features nine bronze works in Waterfront Park that provide a glimpse into the city’s history. Sculptures include “Fruits of Farming,” “The Spirit of Ludington” and “Ludington’s Lumbering Era.”
Tooman said people who plan to stay overnight can kick off 2020 with the New Year’s Resolution Run at 11 a.m. Jan. 1. The race begins at Ludington Pub. ■