A Walk Around the Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

It was a lovely sunny morning with a hint of cool breeze wafting over the bay. Karen was determined to exercise a pent-up urge to do some housekeeping, and it was obvious that the best “help” I could contribute was to go elsewhere and stay there until she was finished.

“All right then,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll go hike around at the lighthouse for a while. I wanted to see how the water levels are doing there anyway.”

Then, suddenly, it struck me, how awesome it was to be able to say that – for a city-raised landlubber like me, anyway — as if it was no big thing. “I’ll go hike around at the lighthouse” like I was saying, “I’ll go hang out at the hardware store.” (Which, actually, is a lot farther away from our place than the lighthouse is.)

How cool is that? I wondered. I live near a lighthouse. There’s a shipwreck just around the point, and eagles nesting on the bluffs. And I’ve been here so long now that I don’t even give it much thought. That’s the human mind for you. If you don’t keep an eye on it, it’ll take the most amazing circumstances and make you forget how wonderful they are.

The Mission Point Lighthouse isn’t a big fancy lighthouse, to be sure. In fact, it’s about the smallest, least fancy lighthouse you can imagine. Cozy is the word that comes to mind. You take the long drive along M-37, past cherry orchards and vineyards, up hills and along beaches, until you come to the very end of the road – where the sign tells you you’ve reached the 45th Parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole — and there it is, standing on a low bluff above the shoals. Like a white clapboard cottage with a fat little cupola poking up through its roof.

A view north from the lighthouse tower.

A view north from the lighthouse tower.

But we love it just the same. Walking out over the bleak and stony shoals where the indescribable teal blue of the water lies at the edge of the horizon, listening to the cries of gulls, terns and killdeer, it’s quite wonderful to look back and see the little lighthouse peeking out from the thick forest that surrounds it. Like an old friend. “It’s not the end of the world,” they told us when we first moved to Old Mission, “but you can see it from here.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see why a lighthouse was needed here; all you have to do is walk out to the edge of the bluff and look out over the broad shoal where the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay come together. In this season of low water, it’s a wide puddly expanse of shingle and rock – including some large boulders — cradled between two narrow spits of land. But when the water is high, it’s hiding just out of sight, waiting to rip the bottom out of any unwary vessel.

Which is what happened back in the middle of the 19th century, when a large ship ran up on the shoal and sank. In response, Congress set $6,000 aside to build a lighthouse. Unfortunately, the War Between the States intervened, so the project wasn’t finished until late 1870. It stood guard over that treacherous reef for the next 63 years, and was finally decommissioned and replaced with an automatic light offshore in 1933.

A historic photo of the lighthouse (notice the white horse!)

A historic photo of the lighthouse (notice the white horse!)

Like so many other abandoned lighthouses around the country, the Mission Point light fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down. But in 1948, the residents of the Peninsula took up a collection among themselves and raised around $1,900 to buy the lighthouse and the surrounding property and turn it into a park. When I first moved out to Old Mission almost 30 years ago, the township park supervisor used to live there with his family, and my son would go there after school to play with their kids. But most people couldn’t just go up to the door and ask to have a look around; it wasn’t open to the general public.

The keeper's office.

The keeper’s office.

That’s all changed now. The place has been added to the National and State Historic Register, and has been beautifully restored with historic furnishings, documents and exhibits. (Thanks to the National Park Service, the lighthouse’s long-lost Fresnel lens has been replaced.) There are self-guided tours where you can climb to the top of the little tower and look out over the shoals just as the real keepers did a century ago, and even a well-organized “volunteer lighthouse keeper” program where you can pay a modest fee to live and work in the lighthouse.

The Mission Point Light is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between April and October, and on weekend in November and December. Admission is $4 for adults, and $2 for kids age 6-12. (Younger kids get in free.) Also free – to everybody – is the extensive network of hiking trails in the hundreds of acres of deeply forested township and state land that surrounds the lighthouse.

For more info, you can go to their excellent website, www.missionpointlighthouse.com.

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Posted in history, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Messing About in Boats… and on Boards… and Jet Skis..

My front yard view -- how could I NOT get a boat?

My front yard view — how could I NOT get a boat?

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

I first came to Traverse City to be near the water. That’s not surprising, I guess; so do thousands of other people.

Water, after all, is what defines this place. It’s the beautiful backdrop for our family photos, the sparkling blue boundary to our beaches, the ever-changing spectacle that mesmerizes us at sunrise and sunset and all the hours in between.

For a long time, though, the water’s edge was the boundary to my wanderings. Sure, you could swim and splash in it – but to venture out on its surface was another thing entirely. That was for people with boats, and I’d never owned a boat. I was a city boy, and I didn’t run in the kind of circles where people had boats.

But you don’t live in Traverse City very long without getting a watercraft of some kind. In my neighborhood there are about as many old boats in people’s yards as old cars, so it wasn’t long before I started my own collection. And once that happened, I stopped thinking of the water as “forbidden territory” and began instead to see it as a big blue playground.

I still think it’s awfully beautiful, but that’s really only half the story. Once you venture out on its shimmering surface, the water becomes more than part of the scenery. It becomes a highway to adventure.

Here in Traverse City, local kids learn to sail on Boardman Lake in small boats called punts.

Here in Traverse City, local kids learn to sail on Boardman Lake in small boats called punts.

With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Traverse City has always attracted active vacationers who enjoy interacting with water – whether that means sailing, boating, kayaking, fishing, or high-speed sports from waterskiing to kiteboarding. The reason?  Grand Traverse Bay, a two-pronged “freshwater fjord” that’s sheltered on three sides from the wind and waves that can mae the open waters of Lake Michigan too intimidating for many novices.

It started with a sailboat – a sailboard really – and worked myself up to a little sloop with a cuddy belowdecks where my kids enjoyed hiding out. (That experiment ended after the boat decided to part company with its mooring one fall evening and take an unscheduled cruise to Elk Rapids without me. As soon as I repaired the damage to her mast, she went up for sale and I got a Sunfish instead. Less responsibility, less headaches.)

I discovered that sailing a tiny little boat requires that you be much more alter and responsive than sailing a larger craft. The added benefit is that you can do it all by yourself; my wife quickly tired of having me shout urgent commands at her in language  she was never able to understand. But much as I love to sail – and I really, REALLY do – I found it a lot easier to get out on the water after we invested in a couple of kayaks.

Traverse City has long been a favorite canoe destination, but now it’s become hugely popular with kayakers. Nowadays almost every town along this coast has at least one canoe/kayak rental outlet, and there are even a few full-service outfitters who offer instruction and guiding services. (Take it from me, it doesn’t take long to learn!)

I love paddling effortlessly down a tree-shaded river without a care in the world, heading out along the East Bay bluffs to look for shipwrecks, or just matching my arms and shoulders against the wind and current. Most of our rivers are tame enough for novice paddlers, with just enough current to keep things interesting, and today’s kayaks are made for people of every age and aptitude. Just pack some sunscreen and a shore lunch — and don’t forget your camera!

Paddling on Lake Michigan (That's South Manitou Island in the background.)

Paddling on Lake Michigan (That’s South Manitou Island in the background.)

And there are lots of other ways to enjoy the water around Traverse City. Stand-up paddleboarding is one of the new fads on the local lakes and harbors; instead of sitting on a board, you stand up for great views of your surroundings, including the watery depths below.

I’m not really into high speed on the water (or anywhere else, I guess) but lots of folks around here enjoy skipping over the deep on jet skis and other personal watercraft. Although they’re faster than ever, they’re a far cry from the noisy, smelly, uncomfortable machines I remember from 20 or 30 years ago — more like small speedboats, and a useful way to get from one place to another in a hurry.

Of course, the proliferation of all these boards and machines doesn’t mean there aren’t still lots of regular boats on the water in Traverse City. Flocks of sailboats are always winging up and down the Bay in breezy weather, and there are plenty of powerboats, too – usually towing water-skiers or heading out to do a little fishing.

Can you tell how eager I am to get back out on that water?

Posted in kayaking, nature, Outdoor Sports, summer | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Horse Shows by the Bay: 10 Years of Equestrian Excellence

Kayaking on Grand Traverse Bay

Kayaking on Grand Traverse Bay

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

You know you’ve had a great weekend when you can barely get out of bed on the morning when it’s over.

Sunburned and sore from two and a half hours of blue-water kayaking on East Bay and scratched up from a midday morel-hunting hike through the forest (we found lot of them!), Karen and I looked at each other this morning and said, “Are we crazy? What did we think we were DOING?”

Fortunately, it wasn’t anything  that several cups of coffee and a lot of ibuprofen couldn’t fix. And we had the satisfaction of having enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and of proving (for a while, anyway) that you’re only as old as you allow yourself to be. I’m discovering a competitive edge to my wife that I never suspected before. Who cares about birthdays, anyway?

Speaking of birthdays, I notice that Horse Shows By the Bay, the month-long “equestrian festival” held each summer in Traverse City will celebrate its tenth anniversary July 3-28. The festival brings thousands of the best-trained horses from the U.S. and Canada to the region each summer for a series of show jumping competitions — including four Grand Prix events, the most competitive class of equestrian sport.

Show jumping has become one of the most popular of equestrian sports. Competitors drive hundreds of miles to participate in sanctioned jumping events, and crowds of fans and curious spectators turn out to watch them go through their paces.

10thAnnyLogoJPEGWEB“It’s a fascinating thing to watch, even for those who don’t think of themselves as horse people,” says promoter Alex Rheinheimer, a horsewoman from Wellington, Fla., who is the dynamo behind Horse Shows By the Bay. “There’s just something so graceful and stirring about these events.”

At first glance, Traverse City might seem an unlikely location for such an event. Best known for its beaches, golf courses and spectacular scenery, it had never been famous as an equestrian center. But when Rheinheimer was investigating possible sites for a new United States Equestrian Federation event, she found the town’s relaxed atmosphere, plentiful tourist amenities and cool offshore breezes an irresistible combination.

“We travel a great deal in this business, and it’s really unusual to find such a lovely area for a competition,” she said. “So many other places are just too hot and humid for the horses during the summer months.”

Apparently, the rest of the equestrian community agreed. When Horse Shows By the Bay held its debut competition, hundreds of horses made the journey to northern Michigan – complete with teams of riders, handlers and grooms. So did plenty of spectators, including many who had never attended a horse jumping event before. I still remember the makeshift competition area they erected along the side of the highway just north of Chum’s Corner using tents, haybales and lots of temporary fencing.

But the event proved so successful that in 2007 they built an entire facility — the 84-acre Flintfields Horse Park, just east of town in the village of Williamsburg — to accommodate the 3,000 competitors and support staff who travel here each summer for the festival.

Participants compete in one of two different styles – hunter and jumper – and are ranked in classes from introductory up to Grand Prix, where the cash prizes each week can go as high as $30,000. (All told, over $600,000 in prize money is awarded over the course of the festival, says Rheinheimer.)

The competitions are sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Federation, which allows horses and riders to win points towards year-end awards and titles. In 2012, the festival’s Series III competition was voted the United States Hunter Jumper Association Zone 5 AA-rated Horse Show of the Year, while the North American Riders Group (NARG) has listed it among its Top 25 Horses Shows in North America for the three years in a row.

The event has also become a significant windfall for the economy of this coastal resort community in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. To date, organizers estimate that Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival has brought more than $65 million in tourism revenue to Traverse City area.

Each show week starts on Wednesday and ends on Sunday. Feature events are scheduled on the weekends and include the exciting Grand Prix plus exhibitions, special family day activities, and charity fundraisers.

“We have great expectations for a stellar 2013 season and look forward to many more,” said Rheinheimer.

In addition to jumping competitions, Horse Shows by the Bay frequently features events in the equestrian sports of dressage and reining, where  horses are taken through carefully planned movements – often accompanied by music — in response to subtle commands from their trainers. In 2013, it will hold a three-day reining series Aug. 2-4.

HorseShows2011 4

To celebrate its 10th Anniversary, the 2013 Horse Shows by the Bay festival  will feature several new awards – including four new $10,000 prizes — and festive parties, including a gala anniversary celebration on Saturday, July 13.

For more information about Horse Shows by the Bay, go to their web site at http://www.horseshowsbythebay.com. To learn more about other summer events, festivals and activities in Traverse City, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.traversecity.com.


Posted in Festivals, hiking, kayaking, Outdoor Sports, spring | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Floral Fireworks all over Traverse City (and Some Real Fireworks for July 4!)

Cycling the Leelanau Trail

Cycling the Leelanau Trail

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

Walking around Traverse City this week, the smell of blossoming trees is everywhere!

Big masses of white cherry blooms in the orchards, wispy boughs of Juneberry in the forests, little high notes of pink peach and apricot on the hillsides, great clumps of blue and purple lilacs in the neighborhoods and lacy white pear blossoms above the downtown sidewalks. All that unpleasant May rain and snow is finally paying off, it seems.

Trilliums and Violets in the Woods

Trilliums and Violets in the Woods

And the trees aren’t the only things in bloom. The forest floor is alive with wildflowers this week. Seas of white trilliums; wild violets in their purple, gold and white; jack-in-the-pulpits (or is it jacks-in-the-pulpit?); Dutchman’s breeches, toothworts, spring beauties, trout lilies and all manner of other blooms. It’s a floral fireworks out there!

Speaking of fireworks, it looks as though there’s going to be another great July 4 fireworks display over West Grand Traverse Bay this year, thanks to the Traverse City Boom Boom Club — the nonprofit group responsible for raising money to finance last year’s impressive fireworks.

Former National Cherry Festival director Tim Hinkley, who helped organize the club and is its current president, says the whole idea is to “spur pride in our country and remembrance of our nation’s independence.” The club is receiving support through contributions from some local municipalities, businesses and private donations, but they’re also asking for community grassroots help.

The 2012 Fireworks over Grand Traverse Bay.

The 2012 Fireworks over Grand Traverse Bay.

The Boom Boom Club was formed two years aho when it looked as though Traverse City might not have enough money to have a July 4 fireworks display, and its initial 2012 show was a great one. Produced by Great Lakes Fireworks of East Jordan, the program featured 1,100 shells and lasted 30 minutes with music simulcast by WTCM-FM.

Contributions are tax deductible, thanks to the fiscal sponsorship of the Cherry Festival Foundation, a Michigan nonprofit corporation exempt from taxation under section 501c3 of the tax code. Donations of any size are welcome, but the group has set up several levels of sponsorship. Donors who give as little as $25 get a VIP admission to the fireworks party area at Open Space Park, with complimentary hot dogs, soda and chips, and a cash bar for beer and wine.

Yeah, that was us at last year's fireworks!

Yeah, that was us at last year’s fireworks!

Karen, Liz and I went last year, and had a great time. Best fireworks-watching venue I think I’ve ever been to!

You can learn more about the effort at the Traverse City City Boom Boom Club  website,   www.tcboomboom.org/ or their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TraverseCityBoomBoomClub. Contributions can be made on line or by check to the Cherry Festival Foundation/Boom Boom Club at  250 E. Front St., Traverse City, MI  49684.

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Posted in cycling, Festivals, nature, spring | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What to do When the Weather Turns Ugly: A Great Exhibit at the Dennos Museum Center

Blooming Cherry Trees on the Old Mission Peninsula

Blooming Cherry Trees on the Old Mission Peninsula

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

The sun is shining, the Bay is a beautiful blue, and the flowers are blooming away just as though this past weekend never happened. But it DID happen, and it was ugly! Cold, cold winds, rain and even big gobs of snow that would have been very scenic in December, but were just WRONG in May.

And there I was, escorting a visiting outdoor writer who was in town to gather material about all the lovely things to do here in spring!

So what did we do? Well, we shopped in the Mercato at the Grand Traverse Commons. We tasted wine at Left Foot Charley and L. Mawby, and beer at Right Brain Brewery and Short’s. We sampled TC’s fabulous food at The Silver Swan and the Peninsula Grill. And when the rain slacked off, we hunted for wildflowers (pretty successfully) and morels (pretty unsuccessfully) at the Commons and the Grass River Natural Area. Oh, and we drove around looking at the blossoming cherry orchards, which don’t look nearly as wonderful on a cloudy day as they do today in the sunshine.

But the whole experience got me thinking about those rainy-day places I don’t usually check out.And one of the best is the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College. Since its opening in 1991, the Dennos has become one of northern Michigan’s most significant cultural centers. In addition to a collection that includes over 1,100 catalogued works of artworks from the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic, it has hosted several major traveling exhibits, from works by studio glass artist Dale Chihuly to artifacts of ancient Egypt and gold from pre-Columbian Panama.

Another of those blockbuster exhibits is about to open next month at the Dennos. It’s “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” a traveling exhibition from the National Geographic Society, and it’ll make its national debut here June 16.

Interior of the Dennos Museum Center

Interior of the Dennos Museum Center

In 2004, National Geographic photographer Tim Laman and Cornell University Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes began a series of 15 targeted expeditions to document these bizarre birds. Eight years and 37 distinct geographic locations later, they completed the first comprehensive study of all 39 known species of birds-of-paradise.

The fascinating stories of ground breaking research and adventure paired with amazing footage and photography are the foundation of this highly interactive exhibition. “Birds of Paradise” is a story of daring expeditions, world culture, extreme evolution and conservation, as only National Geographic can present — with stunning imagery, compelling video, soundscapes, artifacts, and engaging educational activities for all ages.

The interactive exhibit — equal parts natural history, photography and science – provides an in-depth look through photographs, videos and sound recordings into the lives of all 39 species of these exotic New Guinea birds. From June 16 to Sept. 22, visitors will be able to follow the groundbreaking research of photographer Tim Laman and Cornell ornithologist Edwin Scholes into their fascinating behaviors.

“We were pleased to be invited by National Geographic, to be the opening venue for the national tour of this informative and fun exhibition,” says Gene Jenneman, the museum’s executive director. “We are excited to partner with National Geographic to bring this truly special exhibition to the Grand Traverse area and the State of Michigan.”

Red Bird of Paradise

Red Bird of Paradise

Known for their spectacular plumage – especially the long and elaborate feathers on the tails, beaks, wings or heads of the males – birds-of-paradise live exclusively on New Guinea and a few surrounding islands, usually making their home in dense rainforest where they feed on fruits and insects. Scientists have long been interested in their strange mating rituals and dances.

As they enter the exhibit, visitors will be greeted with natural soundscapes, traditional wood carvings and a montage of the various bird-of-paradise species. They’ll experience the bizarre courtship dances that male birds perform to attract the females — through a unique “female’s eye view” video and with the help of interactive games like “Dance, Dance Evolution” that allow humans to learn the birds’ signature moves by dancing along with them.

Photos, videos, bird specimens and a kinetic sculpture of a riflebird (one bird-of-paradise species) also show the transformations that birds-of-paradise undergo to attract their mates and the various moves that make up their mating rituals. Visitors can also manipulate artificial tree branches to trigger video footage of different birds displayed on their perches, with commentary from Scholes.

Other facets of the exhibition highlight the importance of birds-of-paradise to New Guinea. Maps and diagrams of the birds’ ranges across the country explain how the country’s environment allowed the birds to adapt and evolve over time. Legends and folklore about the birds are shared from past generations of New Guinea natives..

Admission to the Museum Center during the run of this special exhibition will be $10 for adults and $5 for children.

The Dennos Museum Center is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM, Thursday’s until 8 PM and Sundays 1-5 PM. For more information on the Museum and its programs, go to www.dennosmuseum.org or call 231-995-1055.

Posted in arts & culture, Food & Drink, nature, spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cherry Blossoms Appear — and so does the National Cherry Festival

This is how it should look by Saturday!

This is how it should look by Saturday!

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

By MIKE NORTON

I saw my first cherry blossom today – and by the end of the week I’m pretty sure there’ll be billions more.

Here in Traverse City, the annual blossoming of the cherries is a big deal. We have more than two million cherry trees ranged along the steep glacial ridges above Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. When they’re in bloom, they’re like battalions of tidy white clouds set against the bright green grass, the fat gold dandelions and the cobalt blue waters.

It’s a beautiful sight, but it’s also a time for worry because cherry farming is a big part of what we do here. Cherries have been part of the Traverse City experience ever since the first cherry tree was planted here in 1852. Over the years, cherry orchards began to spread across the hills of the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, and today the Traverse City area produces over 75 percent of the world’s tart cherries.

Cherry  Blossoms in Leelanau

Last year’s bloom came very early, thanks to an extremely warm spell in March. It was lovely, but it was followed by killing frosts that pretty much wiped out the 2012 crop. This year things seem to be proceeding normally; we had a very cool March and April, and spring is being very coy – the way she usually is in this part of the world.

The middle of May is when the cherry trees usually start blooming, and I’m thinking we’ll be right on schedule this year. So I felt relaxed enough this morning to wander over to the “sneak preview” press conference for the National Cherry Festival, which is now in its 87th season.

This year’s Cherry Festival will kick off on Saturday, June 29 — a week earlier than usual – with a Festival Air Show, Bay Side entertainment, and lots of tasty cherry treats. The change was made so that Independence Day festivities could be included, since many residents and visitors have come to expect to celebrate the two observances at the same time. The eight-day festival offers over 130 events and attractions,  including free air shows, concerts, two parades, daily kids events, the Festival of Races, and (of course) Cherry Pie Eating and Pit Spitting competitions for every age.

Handing out flags at last year's Cherry Festival Parade

Handing out flags at last year’s Cherry Festival Parade

I did manage to learn a few things while scarfing down some cherry brats and a massive wedge of crumb-crust cherry pie. For one thing, the opening day air shows over West Bay will include a first-ever night show, immediately following the evening outdoor concert by Styx (You probably already heard about that concert; Foreigner, Montgomery Gentry, Aaron Tippin and Jana Kramer will also be performing on the Bayside stage that week.)

I’m trying to imagine what an air show would look like in the dark, and I think it could be fairly amazing.

Lest we forget: Little ruby globes of love...

Lest we forget: Little ruby globes of love…

Other news: Mitch Albom will be the guest at the festival’s National Writer Series event, while TV handyman/heartthrob Carter Oosterhouse will be back to help supervise his new Carter’s Kids fitness run. But honestly, the centerpiece of the festival is still all the fun, mostly free games and activities and parades and shows that happen all week long and make this one of my favorite annual Traverse City traditions. (And so far, my favorite musical group is the local Simon & Garfunkel tribute band Old Friends; they played at today’s presser, and darned if some of them really weren’t old friends. Well, middle-aged friends, at least.)

Want more information about the festival? You can go to their website at www.cherryfestival.org.

Posted in arts & culture, Festivals, Food & Drink, history, races, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A New “Virtual Birding Trail,” Just in Time for This Year’s Leelanau Birding Festival

The loons are back in the harbor at Old Mission!

The loons are back in the harbor at Old Mission!

IMPORTANT NOTE: I’VE MOVED!

Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.

Thanks!

Mike

Every year we Up-Northers wait for that One Day: the day when we know spring has finally and irrevocably arrived, when we can finally open the windows and let the warm, moist air of April flow through the house with its scents of moist earth and new growth.

It arrived on Saturday, thank God, and it came with a torrent of birdsong. Honestly, it was as though every songbird in the state decided to spend some time at Old Mission Harbor this weekend. Warblers and jays, robin and sparrows, flickers and cardinals. We even saw a pair of bluebirds splashing in the birdbath — a first for us!

Bud the eagle soars over the harbor again...

Bud the eagle soars over the harbor again…

I’m not really a birder in the formal sense. But I see a lot of them. Birders, I mean. Each year, hundreds of them migrate to the dunelands of Northwestern Michigan with their binoculars and notebooks to enjoy this region’s birding opportunities.

Many come for the annual spring migration, between mid-April and the middle of May, when a diverse population of migratory birds congregate on the triangular Leelanau Peninsula west of Traverse City. Others wait until the end of May for nesting season – and for the annual Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival, a three-day cornucopia of field trips, talks and socializing designed with birders in mind.

Now they’ll also have a new Internet tool to help them find prime birding sites: the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, a web-based “road map” to over 120 miles of shoreline. The trail includes almost 40 birding sites within a short distance of state highway M-22 from the Traverse City limits to Manistee.

A piping plover at Sleeping Bear Dunes

A piping plover at Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Trail is anchored by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has over 71,000 acres of public land and 35 miles of beaches, including vital habitat for the Piping Plover, an endangered shorebird that needs vast stretches of undisturbed beach. It also encompasses the homes of the Wings of Wonder raptor rehabilitation center and Saving Birds Through Habitat, a non-profit organization devoted to the protection and restoration of critical bird habitat.

Electronic birding trails have been launched successfully in Texas, Montana and Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Birding Festival organizer Dave Barrons, one of the minds behind the new trail, says the Sleeping Bear area’s distinct seasons, diverse topography, extensive shoreline and large number of natural areas with public access make it a naturalist’s paradise.

“This is not just a single trail where you get out and hike around looking for birds,” he says. “It’s a travel route, a way of connecting a number of birding sites in a way that allows you to include them in your itinerary.”

Birders checking out the plovers at Sleeping Bear

Birders checking out the plovers at Sleeping Bear

One key feature of the 123-mile trail is what Barrons and fellow birder Mick Seymour call “citizen science.” Over time, individual birders who use the website will report their sightings and observations into a large electronic database that can be used by researchers.

“We now have the ability to meticulously record what we see and hear,” says Seymour. “Birders all over the world are recording where, when, and how many and this data is enormously valuable to the science and understanding of species distribution and abundance.”

Barrons says the Birding Trail will be up and running by April 1 – well in advance of the Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival, which is scheduled  May 29 to June 2.

The 2013 festival will include several new features – including an excursion to the nesting grounds of the rare Kirtland’s warbler, a songbird that lives only in the dense foliage of young jackpine trees. Nine other field trips include visits to the beach habitat of the piping plover and a popular  “Birding By Tall Ship” voyage on the schooner Inland Seas.

The Birding Festival  will operate out of Fountain Point, a classic “Up North” resort near the village of Lake Leelanau, where participants will gather each evening after their excursions to listen to presentations and talks from birding leaders.

The keynote speaker for this year’s festival is Brian Allen, one of one of Michigan’s best-known birders, who spent most of 2012 working on a Michigan “Big Year” – a competition to identify as many bird species as possible in a single year. His talk will explore the ways in which life can get in the way of such an effort, how many species he ended up with, and about the importance of conservation to the future of birding.

Birding is now the country’s number-one outdoor activity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are currently 51.3 million birders, and 16 million Americans say they look for birds when they travel. Several Traverse City area resorts and lodges list nearby birding areas in their promotional literature, and a few even arrange guided outings on request.

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