REVIEW OF A RED CARPET ROLLOUT: More volunteers, day-trippers; Blue Angels sought for '26 (2024)

Jul. 9—TRAVERSE CITY — Despite a persistent tug-of-war between rain and shine, this year's National Cherry Festival provided visitors with a summer celebration to be remembered.

"There were so many highlights," Cherry Festival Director Kat Paye said. "When you do 150 events in a week, [there are] a lot."

Paye noted the U.S. Navy Blue Angels as a particularly noteworthy event, along with the festival's Cherry Royale and Community Royale parades.

"The Junior Royal prince and princesses' floats celebrating the national parks were incredible," she said. "One of them had a working waterfall... I was announcing Thursday's parade and I saw it and thought, 'You have got to be kidding me — that is an actual working waterfall on a float!"

That particular float was Cherry Knoll Elementary School's mobile ode to Olympic National Park. The majority of the float's waterfall engineering was done by 17-year-old Elijah Richardson, older brother of Cherry Knoll Elementary School's Junior Princess Azaliah Koon, according to his mother, Kristin White.

"It was kind of his baby," she said.

Richardson, a student at Traverse City Central who has his sights set on attending Michigan Tech after graduation, said Cherry Knoll's float group initially came up with the idea for the waterfall while researching their assigned National Park.

"When we saw they had waterfalls, we thought maybe we could [build one] and see where that takes us," he said. "From there, I designed a piece in CAD that would allow us to translate from a standard backyard pump. I 3D-printed that and split up a bunch of parts. We got that all working, and it actually came together on the first try.

"We ended up doing this whole extravagant thing because we got a massive pump from Harbor Freight."

Richardson said he also 3D-printed the bald eagles displayed on the float. "It probably took a total of 50 hours to put the entire thing together," he said. "It came together a lot better than I was expecting."

According to parade attendees, several other floats with running waterfalls, and one even had a working geyser.

While the airshow and parades were huge successes, Paye said that the real heroes of the Cherry Festival were its volunteers — and there were many.

"We had over 2,700 volunteers," she said. "This was one of the larger years of volunteerism that we've had. Being that we dub ourselves 'Volunteer City, USA,' this was no small feat. Our volunteers are always incredible, but they came out in even bigger droves this year. They made it all happen.

"We could not be more blessed to have such amazing humans who want to give their time and talents to us."

COMPETING FOR JET TEAMS

While Paye and the other Cherry Festival organizers are still getting things packed up for the year, she said they are already making plans for the 2025 and 2026 festivals.

"We have requested the Blue Angels for 2026," she said. "We will find out [this] December if they are coming. There is a lot in 2026 for our festival and for America. It will be [the United States'] 250th birthday, as well as the Cherry Festival's 100th anniversary. And we will be opening on the Fourth of July."

Paye said that America's 250th birthday will probably make the competition for the jet teams high across the nation.

"Keeping that in mind, we put in our request, as we always do, for the Blue Angels for 2026," she said. "Or the Thunderbirds, who knows. Either team could still visit Traverse City in the future."

Kevin Klein, Cherry Capital Airport's CEO, agreed that there will be a lot of competition for high-performance military jet teams in the coming years.

"2026 is America's 250th birthday," he said. "Cherry Festival can do all they can to convince them to come [to Traverse City], and I think they will, but if a major city like Washington, D.C., or New York City or Boston [makes a request], those decisions are probably going to be made by politicians. And that's going to be out of even the Cherry Festival's hands.

"Think about it: On your nation's birthday, where do you want your major jet teams? That's a big competition. But we want them here, too! [2026] will be our 100th anniversary."

Klein went on to say that, despite some public misperception about an agreement made between the Cherry Festival Airport and the National Cherry Festival, there is nothing to stop Cherry Festival from securing high-performance jet teams, moving forward.

"The airport signed a three-year agreement with the Cherry Festival that outlines the ability for them to have a high-performance team," Klein said. "This year, it was the Blue Angels. Next year, it could be any high-performance team, or any combination of high-performance acts.

"In the third year, of 2026, it's also allowed for any high-performance team to operate. We do not prohibit anybody from the airshow. The agreement allows for it and promotes it."

Klein said the goal of the agreement was to create a balance between all of the users of the airport.

Paye said the National Cherry Festival requested the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds for a 2025 air show, but said the jet team ultimately chose to make an appearance at Tinker Air Force Base during that time instead.

"That just aligned with their schedule," Paye said. "It is rare for an air show site to have a military demonstration team every single year. We are an anomaly. The fact that for 10 years we had a team every year is unheard of. We are blessed to have had them for so long, for so many years."

While there is currently no military jet team scheduled for 2025, Paye said that could change — and there will still be a lot of civilian air show acts for next year's Cherry Festival.

"We will know [this] December if we will have additional military demonstration teams," she said. "The Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels could still visit Traverse City in the future. That is not off the table."

President of Traverse City Tourism Trevor Tkach said this year's festival was extremely successful and, like Paye, the airshow was one of his favorite events.

"People were coming in and having a good time and spending lots of money on local businesses," he said, "which is great. It will take us a couple weeks or months to evaluate the economic impact of the event, but it appears it was a really good year."

Tkach said he thought that more people made Cherry Festival a day trip, as opposed to a multi-day stay, compared to previous years. He attributed this to the country's unfavorable economy.

"Consumer confidence waives a little bit with higher interest rates and other economic factors," he said. "People still want to travel, [many of them] just have less money to spend."

Still, Tkach said there are not necessarily fewer people coming to the Cherry Festival than usual: "They're just consuming in different ways."

In fact, Tkach said, this year seemed busier "in a lot of ways."

"I think part of that was because of the temperate weather," he said. "The [bouts] of rain brought more people off the beaches and into downtown and the Open Space. We might have had the same amount of people, but their behavior was different this year."

While Paye said local cherry production statistics will not be in for some time, Tkach said this year's early sweet cherry harvest probably led to higher local sales than usual.

"We are extremely thankful to our growers and processors for growing and harvesting our favorite fruit so we have something wonderful to celebrate," Paye said. "Our community rolled out, once again, an incredible red carpet with all the volunteers welcoming our guests into Traverse City for a week.

"I know it is a lot on our community to put on this big celebration," she said. "We are just very thankful."

REVIEW OF A RED CARPET ROLLOUT: More volunteers, day-trippers; Blue Angels sought for '26 (2024)
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