The Traverse Symphony Goes Outdoors This Weekend

The Great Lawn at the Grand Traverse Commons

The Great Lawn at the Grand Traverse Commons

Over the past few years, the wide grassy Historic Lawn at the The Village at Grand Traverse Commons has become one of Traverse City’s best-loved outdoor event spaces, Surrounded by tall trees and the creamy brick walls of the Traverse City State Hospital, it plays host to lots of weddings, private parties and two major warm-weather events: the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, and the Summer Microbrew & Music Festival.

But this Saturday it’s going to be the scene of a different kind of musical evening entirely – an outdoor concert by the Traverse Symphony Orchestra directed by Maestro Kevin Rhodes, under a 20,000-square-foot “grand event tent.”

TSOattheCommonsKrista Cooper, the TSO’s executive director, has hopes that the outdoor concert – called TSO@The Village — will showcase the orchestra “in an approachable and fun format” for listeners who may never have experienced a traditional concert-hall setting.

“Much like the music we create, the Traverse Symphony Orchestra is vibrant,” she said. “We are providing experiences that open the door to classical music via programming and environments that are fun, energetic, moving, powerful and engaging.”

The TSO string section

The TSO string section

Not only will the concert program include such crowd-pleasers as Wagner’s download (1)“Ride of the Valkyries,” Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture” and Ravel’s “Bolero” – it’ll also feature a light show and a pre-concert show by the Louis Armstrong tribute band Satchmo and Traverse City’s hugely popular folk-rock duo, The Accidentals. In fact, The Accidentals  (18-year-olds Savannah Buist and Katie Larson)  will be backed up by the 72-member TSO for the premiere performance of a new original song, “Mangrove,” which they wrote and scored for orchestra themselves.

But wait, as they say, there’s more! Concert attendees will also be able to enjoy a picnic featuring local foods paired with local beers and wines. The concert also will includes a “walking tour map” of both peninsulas, highlighted by popular landmarks placed around the Commons lawn: a form of “aerial art” that can only be fully appreciated from overhead, and a pair of “lighthouse galleries” where local photographers and artists will pay tribute to the region’s four seasons.

If this fever-dream extravaganza sounds as though it came from the mind of local entrepreneur Sam Porter, that’s because his company – Porterhouse Productions – is working with the TSO on the outdoor concert. The company is also providing a 20,000-square foot “grand event tent” that can shelter the orchestra and audience in case of inclement weather.

The family-friendly atmosphere of TSO@The Village includes lawn seating for picnic blankets and low 16-inch high chair backs. Adut tickets start at $35  and kids at $15. Upgraded VIP seating starts at $95 with table seating available. They can be ordered online at

For more information about the concert call 1-800-836-0717 or go to

My Favorite Cherry Festival Activity? The Junior Royale!



I’m not normally a crowd person — but there are times when I will gladly hang out with thousands of other people.

Ball games, for instance. Oh, and the Junior Royale Parade at the National Cherry Festival.

Now in its 88th year, the Cherry Festival (July 5-12) is Traverse City’s signature event, drawing as many as 500,000 attendees from around the country. And although some of my friends like to huff and puff about how long it lasts and how it snarls up traffic, most of us have events that we never miss if we can help it. I mean, with more than 150 family-friendly activities (air shows, fireworks, parades, games, races, midway rides, demonstrations, banquets and nightly outdoor concerts) it’s hard to avoid having a favorite.

For some, it’s the stunning airshow over Grand Traverse Bay, especially in years like this one when the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels were the headliners. Even before the Festival officially gets underway, they gave us a Fourth of July treat, and for the next two days there were free shows in the sky. Some folks are also be excited that this year the  Detroit Red Wings are holding their annual development camp in Traverse City during Cherry Festival week.


Others love the nightly concerts down along the beach. This year’s lineup includes Collective Soul, Here Come the Mummies, the Bihlman Bros. (weren’t those guys great?) the Gin Blossoms, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, the Under the Sun Tour (Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, Blues Traveler, and Uncle Kracker), Justin Moore, and Tommy James & The Shondells.

Everybody has favorites: the marching band competitions, the food tastings, the fireworks, the midway rides, the excursions out to working cherry farms – after all, the Cherry Festival is still our way of celebrating Traverse City’s role as “America’s Cherry Capital.” And for many folks, the Big Event is the huge Cherry Royale Parade held on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the festival – an enormous procession of floats, bands, marching units, clowns and grinning politicians that draws 50,000 spectators each year.


But my favorite parade is a smaller affair, one that takes place on Thursday evening. The Junior Royale Parade is for kids – in fact, someone told me that it may be the largest all-kid parade in the country. Hundreds of youngsters make their way down the Traverse City streets, marching along, steering their decorated bikes and trikes, leading their reluctant pets, riding on their lovingly constructed school floats or dozing in their baby buggies.

CherryFest2012-0877 - CopyMaybe it’s the early evening atmosphere, so cool and dreamy and filled with just-after-dinner contentment. Maybe it’s the earnest wholesomeness of the whole adventure. But when I’m sitting at the curb during the Junior Royale watching those kids go by, I feel a connection to a sweeter, less frantic time and place. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of summer celebrations when I was a kid – the kind of memories I hope my own kids have, the kind of memories that we should hold on to.

The other thing I’ve always loved about the Cherry Festival is that most of it’s available to ordinary working people. Everything is located within walking distance, and since almost all the events are free, it offers more than a week of affordable family fun. I think that’s one reason why it’s been listed among USA Today’s top ten festivals for several years running.


The 2014 Michigander Tour: What Are All Those Cyclists Doing in Traverse City?

Photo 4

For 22 years, cyclists have braved all kinds of weather, sleeping in tents and riding on old railroad beds, in the Michigander Bicycle Tour, the nation’s first, and longest, rails-to-trails cycling event. This week, the latest edition of this popular tour will pass through the Grand Traverse area. In this story, guest blogger Ron Campbell recounts the dramatic beginnings of the ‘Gander and offers local cyclists a last-minute chance to join the fun. (Photo above: Newspaper columnist Les Rosan of Alma rides on the North Central State Trail near Indian River during the 2013 Michigander. Photo by Ron Campbell.)


It all began 22 years ago, with a Detroit Free Press Magazine article called “The Bike Trip From Hell.”

I can still remember the cover illustration of bicyclists on a trail that caught my eye one Sunday morning. Then the headline of the story drew me in: “This Will Be a Hoot in August.”

Neely Tucker (Photo by Bill O'Leary)

That March, some crazy dude with a pony tail had ridden 275 mostly-solitary miles across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, from South Haven to Rochester, on icy roads and rail trails – abandoned railroad corridors converted into multiuse recreational trails – through a blizzard and sub-zero wind chills. He was Free Press reporter Neely Tucker, and he’d just ridden the inaugural route of the Michigander Bicycle Tour.

This week the “True North” version of that ride — the 23rd annual Michigander — rolls through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, across the Leelanau Peninsula and through Traverse City. It’s the Michigander’s fifth visit to the area, but its first return visit since 2008. It’s also my 18th ‘Gander ride — and a considerably warmer one than that first ride of Tucker’s.

“We’re delighted to see this great event return to Traverse City, and not just because the riders buy lots of stuff. There’s only so much you can carry on a bike, after all,” said Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism. “We like to think of ourselves as a cycling town, and the True North ‘Gander lets a lot of us live out our long-distance fantasies by chatting with the riders at the Civic Center and watching them go through town.”


The 258-mile 6-Day and 293-mile 7-Day tour options begin in Reed City and Farwell, respectively, traveling on M-22 – the sublime subject of all those trendy bumper stickers – back roads, the Fred Meijer White Pine, Betsie Valley, Leelanau and TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail) rail trails. Riders will set up tent cities in the tiny village of Mesick and the quintessential Up North resort towns of Frankfort, Leland, Traverse City and Cadillac.

Over 660 riders have signed up for one of the tour’s three options, including the family-and-beginner-friendly 2-Day ride, which starts in Farwell and takes riders 35 miles along the paved Pere Marquette State Trail to their overnight camp in the crossroads town of Reed City, an old Michigander favorite, and 35 miles back to Farwell the next day.

In the classic story that introduced readers to the tour, Tucker wrote about his frozen misadventures on the inaugural route. The main event in August was sponsored and covered by the Free Press after the Michigan Chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy asked the paper to join them in a project to raise awareness of and funds for the rails-to-trails campaign.

“I was dumb enough to keep pedaling, lucky enough not to get hurt, and numb enough to undergo heart surgery without anesthesia,” Tucker wrote then. “Even now, with the chill lingering in my bones, I can imagine that it might be fun to do this in August. But in early March the Free Press Michigander was the Bike Trip From Hell. After all, I did pedal through it. (The route passed through the community of Hell, 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor.) And just as I suspected, it was frozen over.”

Sam Kennedy of Belleville waves the checkered flags for 82-year-old Canton resident Joe Chicky at the 2013 Michigander finish line in Harbor Springs.
Sam Kennedy of Belleville waves the checkered flags for 82-year-old Canton resident Joe Chicky at the 2013 Michigander finish line in Harbor Springs.

This year’s Michigander route promises to be one of its most spectacularly scenic ever, and members of the tour’s famously close-knit “cycle-logical” family are counting down the days with breathless anticipation. Count me among them. Nancy Krupiarz, the executive director of the Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA) – the Lansing-based nonprofit group that now oversees the ride – is pretty stoked as well.

“It’s wonderful to be able to return to the well-loved trails of past Michiganders,” she said. “But this year, to be able to add the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, set in the beautiful and unique surroundings of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, is really exciting.”

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail runs 10 miles from Empire to Glen Arbor through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which “Good Morning America” named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” in 2011.

Kelly-Poppe Purol and Fred Purol, of Brighton, who got married on Mackinac Island during the 2013 Michigander.
Kelly-Poppe Purol and Fred Purol, of Brighton, who got married on Mackinac Island during the 2013 Michigander.

“I had no idea it would turn into something that would last this long,” said Tucker, who’s now with the Washington Post, and on a national book tour promoting his highly-acclaimed first novel, “The Ways of the Dead.”

“The Michigander I did with everybody else was a nice, laid-back, days-in-the-sun hangout,” he said. “You never had to come indoors. It was great. The trip I did solo in March? Well, I don’t recall being much colder, whether it was Poland or Bosnia or the mountains in Georgia. But (on the ’92 Michigander in August), everybody spoke English, and nobody was shooting at me, so it was still pretty low key. But God, my butt hurt.”

He wished the riders on the True North edition well.

“Good luck and Godspeed,” he said. “It wasn’t like that in the old days!”

He added that his experiences made up for the chilled bones and sore rear end he got during his long rides in March and August, 1992 – because they gave him so much more.

“You don’t get rich in this job,” the Mississippi native and award-winning writer said. “You just wind up with a lot of great stories. And the Michigander – and that, by luck of the draw, I got to pioneer it – is a great story to tell.”

Here’s your chance to become part of the Michigander story yourself.

Why miss out on all the fun? Life is full of uncertainties, but both Tucker and I are pretty sure about one thing.

This will be a hoot in July.


–Berkley-based freelance writer and Michigander veteran Ron Campbell can be reached at  For more information about the MTGA, go to and


Horse Shows by the Bay: Doing Lots of Good in Lots of Places

Scott Stewart of Flemington, NJ on Celebration (All photos by Tricia Booker))

Scott Stewart of Flemington, NJ on Celebration (All photos by Tricia Booker))

One of Traverse City’s greatest summer festivals doesn’t get a lot of the attention it deserves. It’s Horse Shows by the Bay, our month-long “equestrian festival” out at Flintfields Horse Park in Williamsburg, which started on Wednesday. Not only is it a really spectacular event for horse lovers — it also donates a lot to local and national charities. We asked guest blogger Tricia Booker of Cameron Green Media to explain:

While the Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival draws some of the country’s top horses and provides a major economic boost to the Traverse City summer economy, the show’s impact doesn’t stop there. Last year, the four-week Hunter/Jumper series hosted a record 1,355 competing horses from 32 states and Canada, and the direct local economic impact during the month of July exceeded $15 million.

Over the past decade, Horse Shows by the Bay has donated more than $100,000 to local and equestrian-related charities, and this year horse show owner and manager Alex Rheinheimer hopes to meet or exceed the $15,000 presented to last year’s charities.

“Our goal is to create awareness for these amazing charities amongst this wonderful assembly of people that are here for a month,” said Rheinheimer.

10491244_10152522102495513_5881064085590798613_nThis year, the 11th annual Horse Shows by the Bay Equestrian Festival will feature the popular Team Elmer’s Kid’s Day, on July 5. Children will be admitted free, adult admission is $10, and the day’s gate proceeds will benefit the Grand Traverse and Leelanau 4-H Program.

“We’ve been working with the local 4-H groups since 2005, and we really enjoy helping young people explore their interests in horses, livestock and agriculture,” said Rheinheimer. “We hope their time here is educational and inspirational.”

In addition to the competitive equestrian events scheduled, there will be games and activities, such as Clear Round Ribbon Jumping, the Team Elmer’s Super Sandbox “Find the Petoskey Stones” Station, Face Painting and Pony Rides from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  Betsy VanDyke will also be on-hand to perform a special dressage ride to music.

Danny & Ron’s Rescue, an organization dedicated to saving and helping dogs in need, will be the featured charity during the second week of the Horse Shows by the Bay Hunter/Jumper series.

Saturday, July 12 will be “Rescue Day” and will feature the $10,000 SJHOF High Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic, sponsored by Missy and Doug Smith. The Smiths, who like to sponsor fundraisers nation-wide for Danny and Ron’s Rescue and who also have rescued many dogs from Danny and Ron, hope the Saturday showcase event draws a large crowd as gate proceeds will be donated to further help Danny and Ron’s coast-to-coast mission to save dogs in need.

“Danny and I are so impressed with Horse Shows by the Bay, and we’re thrilled to be associated 10438923_10152522118905513_4427262893106432224_nwith such an outstanding event,” said Ron Danta, co-founder of Danny & Ron’s Rescue. “We hope that after their Rescue Day experience, spectators will be encouraged to visit their own local shelter and adopt a dog in need of a loving home.”  Since Hurricane Katrina swept the Gulf Coast over 8000 dogs have been rescued, saved, and adopted by this organization based out of Camden, SC.

Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan will benefit from the WTCM FM Radio Family Day, Saturday, July 19. Radio personalities will be broadcasting live onsite from 10 a.m. to noon. The adult admission fee is $10, and children are admitted free.

Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan began life as a branch of the Michigan Children’s Aid Society in the 1890s. The purpose was “to accept homeless, neglected, and destitute children,” and “to find homes for them.” Today, their programs and services include adoption, counseling, foster care, pregnancy and birth counseling, safe haven, and foster care, among many others.

Family Day activities include light kid-friendly entertainment in the Farm House Orchard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and also includes admission to that day’s feature Show Jumping event in the Grand Prix Arena and to the Betsy VanDyke Dressage demonstration.

“Child and Family Services/Third Level is pleased and honored to partner with Horse Shows by the Bay.  We are northern Michigan’s premier provider of foster care, adoption, counseling, crisis, youth outreach, and family preservation programs, so this year’s Family Day feels like a perfect fit,” commented CEO Jim Scherrer.
“We know firsthand how therapeutic contact with horses can be for people of all ages that have experienced trauma, such as our clients have,” he continued. “We look forward to being part of a great 11th year of Horse Shows by the Bay.”

The popular “Red, White and Blue” Day will be held on Saturday, July 26 to celebrate the United States military and its veterans. All past and present members of the military are admitted free, and Reining Liberty Ranch, of Traverse City, will receive the gate proceeds from the additional spectators attending.

“I’m especially excited about our partnership with Reining Liberty Ranch, since we know how therapeutic even just being around horses can be. Reining Liberty Ranch seem to really understand the importance of the equine-human relationship,” said Rheinheimer.

“This is a new organization that works with wounded veterans, and their work with horses serves as a physical and emotional therapy,” continued Rheinheimer. “They use the ranch to give them a place and opportunity to heal. We hope members of the military will also find our finale Grand Prix exciting, and we hope they’ll join us at the horse show on this day so we can celebrate their service to our country.”

Reining Liberty Ranch’s mission is to promote the physical, relational and emotional health of primarily veterans and their families through the use of equine, agricultural, and educational services as well as community outreach efforts.

“Reining Liberty Ranch is privileged to partner with Horse Shows by the Bay in honoring our veterans on Red, White and Blue Day.  We’re moved by their commitment to creating the awareness necessary in serving those who have served us so well!” remarked Director Becki Bigelow.

Their programs are centered around the horse-human relationship, such as Natural Horsemanship, therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, equine facilitated learning and other agricultural activities. Through these activities, participants connect with others facing similar challenges, and the ranch becomes the catalyst of healing through building relationships, mentorship opportunities, and reintegration and interaction within our community.

Opening day on Wednesday July 2 will feature action in all five rings, with the Grand Prix Ring and the R.L. Polk Family Main Hunter Ring streaming live thanks to Horse Shows by the Bay’s streaming partners, HRTV and ShowNet, LLC. They’re bringing the action right to your screen every day, beginning at 8 a.m. Go to and click on “Watch It Live.”

Horse Shows by the Bay Fast Facts

Horse Shows by the Bay is a United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Premier (AA) Hunter and Level 4 Jumper competition.


  • Series I: July 2-6
  • Series II: July 9-13 (USHJA/WCHR Member Event)
  • Series III: July 16-20 ($25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby)
  • Series IV: July 23-27 (HJAM Equitation Medal Finals)

Featured Events:

  • Weekly $40,000 Grand Prix
  • Weekly $10,000 Open Jumper Welcome Prix
  • Weekly $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby
  • Weekly $1,000 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Program Stake Classes
  • Weekly TAKE2 Thoroughbred Hunter/Jumper Classes
  • Weekly Charity Fundraisers & Special Spectator Days

Featured events for Horse Shows by the Bay Series I – July 2-6:

  • TAKE2 TB Hunter and Jumper Classes – Wednesday, July 2
  • $1,000 USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Stake Class, sponsored by PJP Farm, Inc – Thursday, July 3
  • $2,500 1.40m Jumper Speed Stake, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone – Thursday, July 3
  • $10,000 Positive Step Farm Open Jumper Welcome Prix – Friday, July 4
  • $10,000 SJHOF High Jr/AO Jumper Prix – Saturday, July 5
  • $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby, presented by Walgreens – Sunday, July 6
  • $2,500 NAL/WIHS Children’s Jumper Classic – Sunday, July 6
  • $2,500 NAL/WIHS Adult Jumper Classic – Sunday, July 6
  • $7,500 NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic – Sunday, July 6
  • $40,000 Grand Prix of Traverse City – Sunday, July 6

Special Exhibitor functions during Series I include: Equestrian Connect Tuesday Check-in Coffee Station; the Coldwell Banker Schmidt Wine & Cheese Social featuring local winery Black Star Farm on Thursday, a weekend ice cream social sponsored by the Gochman Family, and the Morgan Stanley VIP/Sponsor Luncheon on Sunday during the Grand Prix.

Contact Information:

  • Alex Rheinheimer, Show Owner/Manager (561) 723-6287
  • Julie Agar, Show Office/Entries (248) 892-6806
  • Ben Fairclough, Feed/Stabling (231) 267-3700
  • MSU College of Vet Medicine, Show Veterinarian (517) 214-9369
  • Tricia Booker, Media Relations (703) 431-7103

Keep in touch by following the official Horse Shows by the Bay Facebook page for daily updates and photos. For more information, schedules, directions, or to Watch It Live, please visit 

Now You Won’t Need a Boat to Get to Power Island!


Aerial view of Power Island

Aerial view of Power Island


I like having places that I can keep “all to myself.” But I have to admit that I’m really glad about Grand Traverse County’s decision to start running a ferry service to Power Island.

For the first time in over a century, members of the public can visit one of the most beautiful parks in our community, without having to buy or rent a boat of their own. This month the county decided to provide ferry service to Power Island, a 204-acre preserve of forests, wetlands, bluffs and beaches on West Grand Traverse Bay, from the nearby boat launch site in Bower’s Harbor.

Taking a dip at Power Island

Taking a dip at Power Island

As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a matter of simple fairness. It’s their park, too. And apparently the folks at the county felt the same way.

“This is really a special place, and it’s right smack-dab in the middle of our county,” said Alisa Kroupa, president of the Grand Traverse County parks commission. “The citizens pay for this park, yet until now we haven’t been able to provide them with access to it.”

I’ve been going out to the island for years, paddling my kayak over from Bower’s Harbor a couple of times every summer. And I like the fact that it’s difficult enough to reach that it’s been kept relatively unspoiled — but I don’t buy the idea that places like this should be protected from the people, kept for the exclusive use of those wealthy enough to have their own watercraft. It belongs to the People.

Besides, it’s not really the kind of place that’s going to attract your average yahoo — except the kind who already have boats. Three miles from shore at the entrance to Bowers Harbor, within sight of downtown Traverse City, it has a dock, a swimming beach, and a network of hiking trails through a dense maple-beech forest. That’s about it.

Moored off Basset Island

Moored off Basset Island

At its northeast tip is a smaller islet called Basset Island, sometimes connected to the main island during low-water periods, which includes four rustic campsites – but at the turn of the century it was the site of a dance hall that brought boatloads of couples out from Traverse City.

Originally known as Marion Island (a name many local residents still use) the main island was owned from 1917 to 1944 by automotive pioneer Henry Ford, who used it as a rustic retreat where he entertained friends like Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and as many as three U.S. presidents. Ann Arbor philanthropist Eugene Power donated it to The Nature Conservancy, which turned it over to the county parks department in 1975.

Since then, it’s been managed as a near-wilderness whose only human residents are ranger Fred Tank and his delightful family, who stay in the summers to keep an eye on things. Thanks to its sheltered location, it’s one of the most popular boating and kayaking destinations on the bay. On summer weekends its tiny harbor regularly fills with boats and frolicking boaters who congregate around the dock and swimming beach, or cluster in the shallows off its southern edge to enjoy the limpid Caribbean-clear waters and picnic on the tree-shaded beaches.

Solitary souls can find tranquility here even on the busiest days, since most visitors never venture more than a few yards from the water’s edge. The interior is a treat for hikers: five miles of well-maintained trails lead through the dense forest  to a high ridge known as the Eagle’s Nest and along the wild western shore with its steep bluffs and rocky shoals.

Power Island Harbor

Power Island Harbor

The ferry – actually the boat used by the county park ranger — can take up to six passengers at a time. The county folks say it’s not intended to be a money-making enterprise; the charge is simply to cover the cost of fuel, labor and other expenses. Cost for the round trip is $30 for the first rider of a group and $15 for each additional rider. Interested travelers can contact the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Department at (231)922-4818 to make reservations.

At the Dennos This Summer: an Amazing Korean Sculptor and Some Provocative Chinese Photographers

Visitors wander through an illusory forest of layered wire mesh created by Seungmo Park.

Visitors wander through an illusory forest of layered wire mesh created by Seungmo Park. 


Sometimes you need a little nudge. For instance, if Gene Jenneman hadn’t nudged me last week, I might have missed a couple of really great exhibits of East Asian art — one by an iconoclastic Korean sculptor, the other a provocative photographic record of social change in modern China - at the Dennos Museum Center.

Both exhibits – Seungmo Park: Meticulously Snipped and Wrapped and How to Return: an exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Photography  – will be on display at the Dennos until Sept. 7. Jenneman, who’s the executive director at the Dennos, visited Seungmo at his studio outside of Seoul late last year — and he’s been delighted with the public response to the work.

Park's "Maya 7624"

Park’s “Maya 7624″

“This is not an exhibition for intellectuals,” he said. “The average tourist who is just here for fun will come away talking about it. I watched throngs of people come through the Dennos on Barbecue Day here who are not our usual visitor types, telling me they had never seen anything like it – actively engaged with the work including photographing themselves with, and in one of the works that allows you to become part of the piece.”

So I went and took a look. And he was right!



Park's "Maya 1316"

Park’s “Maya 1316″


The Dennos show is Seungmo Park’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. and features his meticulously cut MAYA imagery, in which the sculptor uses layers of wire mesh to create deep images that combine an ethereal, spiritual depth with nearly photographic realism.

Park’s other sculptural works are drawn from models found around him – a person, a piano or a motorcycle – which he transforms into oddly disturbing shapes wrapped in aluminum wire.

“How to Return” is a showcase exhibition organized with Shanghai’s M97 Gallery, whose owner  Steven Harris is a Michigan native who summered in nearby Northport as a young man. Harris chose the work of seven contemporary Chinese photographers who reflect the contrasts and collisions between tradition and change.

Harris believes current art in China reflects a growing disenchantment with “the veil of glittery consumerism and all it promised,” and a search for ways to find what’s left of their roots. Each of the seven artists included in the Dennos exhibition conducts that search differently.

Wang Ningde's  "Some Days 60"

Wang Ningde’s “Some Days 60″

Adou and Luo Dan are perhaps most recognized for their work documenting  ethnic minority groups in China like the Yi of Sichuan and the rural villagers of Yunnan. Song Chao emerged on the international stage with a series of portraits of his fellow coal miners, while painter turned photographer Liang Weizhou depicts the industrialization and post-industrialization of the water towns and countryside around his native Shanghai. Huang Xiaoliang and Lu Yanpeng present composed and landscape images of delicate and dreamlike quality, while Wang Ningde’s conceptual images explore the tension between today’s China and memories of the Cultural Revolution; his iconic series “Some Days” has  achieved international acclaim.

Since its opening in 1991, the Dennos has become northern Michigan’s most significant cultural center. 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 Precolumbian Panama.

Located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College, it is also the home of Milliken Auditorium, whose annual series of jazz, blues and world music is a hugely popular part of the state’s cultural mosaic.The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm and Sundays from 1-5 pm. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children. For more information on the Museum and its programs, go to  or call 231-995-1055.


Grand Traverse Commons Tours: a Popular Visitor Attraction


For over a decade, one of our star attractions has been the Village at Grand Traverse Commons —  Traverse City’s former mental hospital — whose stately buildings are being transformed into a bustling residential and entertainment district.

More recently, though, the old asylum is attracting visitors who want to get a last look at its eerie halls, tunnels and garrets before they’ve all been turned into ritzy condos, restaurants and boutiques. Guided tours through the site’s unrestored buildings are now a hot ticket at The Commons, says spokeswoman Tricia Phelps.

07_304livingroom_before - Copy“The word has gradually been getting out, and now tourists are starting to find out about this chance to go behind the scenes,” she says. “People have always been interested in exploring these old buildings, and this not only gives them a chance to do it — without breaking the law — it gives them an idea about the history of the hospital and the nuts and bolts of the restoration process that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Set in a 500-acre expanse of forest and meadow, the tall castle-like buildings of the hospital complex date back to the 1880s, when state officials chose Traverse City as the site of a new asylum ,in the belief that fresh air and beautiful surroundings could ease the sufferings of the mentally ill. The hospital became a huge park filled with Victorian-Italianate buildings of golden brick and planted with exotic trees collected from around the world. It was also a small, self-sufficient city in its own right, with a population that reached as high as 3,500 – larger than that of the city itself.

The centerpiece of the Commons is Building 50, a massive structure topped with ornate scarlet-tipped turrets. Three stories tall and a quarter of a mile from end to end, it is undergoing a gradual makeover that is nearly 60 percent complete. Its garrets and lofts are condominiums and apartments; its lower floors hold offices and businesses, while its former cellar is now The Mercato, a subterranean shopping mall of trendy galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

Other buildings in the huge redevelopment area have also been turned to new uses. The wege-900x473asylum’s former fire station is now an organic bakery; another old brick building is a restaurant, while the former laundry houses a winery and tasting room. Meanwhile, the property’s wide tree-shaded lawns have become a prime space for public events and festivals.

And the pace of development shows no sign of slowing down, especially now that a new system of roads and sidewalks now links the once isolated asylum campus to the rest of the town. The Mercato continues to extend itself northward, while  the 13,000-square-foot former chapel at the center of Building 50 has emerged from a $3 million facelift as a multi-purpose event and meeting space. There is talk of a microbrewery/brewpub, and of a boutique hotel and conference center in several “cottage” buildings on the periphery of the campus.

Meanwhile, a set of huge “cathedral barns” that once belonged the the asylum’s self-sufficient farm are being readied for a $1.5 million renewal that will make them into indoor spaces for concerts, farm markets and weddings  — and the headquarters of the 26-acre Botanic Garden of Northwest Michigan.

Historical-Tours-in-the-Tunnels - CopyBut visitors are still curious about the secret, spooky places in those lovely old buildings, and they’ve been so insistent that a year ago the folks at the Commons began conducting  guided historic tours into those areas. According to Phelps, the staff conducts five tours per week in the off–season, and 10 per week in the summer and fall. Tours last two hours and are limited to groups of 15 or less.

The tour will take guests through an unrenovated cottage to see the state of the buildings left to decay after the hospital closed in 1989, then proceeds to a “work-in-progress” renovation and an exploration of  the asylum’s underground tunnel system. Finally, the group is led to a renovated hallway within Building 50 to see first-hand the details of the renovation work.

Along the way, the tour guide discusses the history of mental illness in the U.S., the history and architecture of the Traverse City State Hospital, and the ongoing renovation project.

“The cool thing is that the tour is always changing as we finish with each part of the restoration,” says Phelps. “We have people calling us regularly who’ve been on five tours already, and they want to see what’s coming up for number six.”

Tickets for the Guided Historic Tour are $25 and can be purchased on line at Private tours may also be scheduled for groups of nine or more by calling 231-941-1900.

On July 26-28, Traverse City Becomes the “City of Riesling”



When Ed O’Keefe looked out over Grand Traverse Bay in 1974 from a high ridge on the Old Mission Peninsula, he saw what no one had seen there before: the perfect terrain for growing Riesling grapes.

Thus began the great “Riesling boom” that sparked Traverse City’s phenomenal wine industry, which now numbers nearly 40 wineries on Old Mission and the neighboring Leelanau Peninsula and produces a diverse range of Chardonnays, Pinots, Cabernets, Gewürztraminers and other varietals. O’Keefe’s Chateau Grand Traverse still dominates that ridge above the bay, and is still devoted largely to Riesling, the grape that started it all.

This summer, Traverse City winemakers and restaurateurs will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that event with a three-day event called City of Riesling. It’s the brainchild of Sean O’Keefe and sommelier Amanda Danielson, owner of  two top-rated Traverse City restaurants – Trattoria Stella and The Franklin – as well as renowned wine writer Stuart Pigott.

Pigott’s newest book, Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story, will be introduced during the event. He has visited the region twice before, and has described it as a place “where some of the best Riesling wines in America are produced.” Scheduled for July 26-28, “City of Riesling” is intended to blend seamlessly into the annual Traverse City Film Festival (July 29 – Aug. 3).

“It’s fitting that Traverse City should be the location for the most ambitious presentation of my book, because it’s not only the centre of one of America’s most innovative Riesling regions, but also one of the most creative cities in the entire country,” ” said Pigott. “Your wines retain a lightness of touch but depth of character that is quite remarkable. That’s a pretty neat combination that a lot more ought to be talked about.”

Danielson, for her part, believes that the three-day celebration can dispel some of the myths about Riesling, which is widely thought of as a “sweet wine” unworthy of serious consideration. Like Pigott, she feels the wine should be presented as something fun and approachable.

Still the most widely-planted and versatile grape grown in the Traverse City area, Riesling is instantly recognizable by its rich fruity perfume. Best known in its semi-dry and sweet styles, it also makes a fine dry wine.

“Many sweet Rieslings are lovely, but those who avoid the grape altogether because they don’t like ‘sweet wine’ are missing out on some of the best white wines on earth,” said Danielson. “This weekend is about having a great time showcasing a grape that we love in our beautiful wine country.”

City of Riesling begins with Saturday Riesling tastings at the individual wineries of the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. Sunday starts with a “Riesling Oyster Riot” at The Little Fleet (Traverse City’s outdoor food truck dock), followed by the world premier screening of Pigott’s short film “Watch Your Back: A Riesling Movie” and The Bar of 100 Rieslings — a chance to taste a stunning selection of Rieslings from Traverse City and around the world that showcase the range and diversity of the wine along with light food and live music at Clinch Park on Grand Traverse Bay.

The festival concludes Monday at The Franklin restaurant with “Salon Riesling” — an afternoon release party for Pigott’s new book, Best White Wine On Earth: The Riesling Story along with TED-style educational talks enlivened with curated tastings of Rieslings featured in the book paired with food.

Details and ticket information can be found at:

Riesling on the vine at Chateau Grand Traverse



The Faces Behind the Places of Traverse City – Dave McGinnis, Traverse Tall Ship Co.

If you’ve ever looked out onto West Grand Traverse Bay on a summer day it’s fairly certain that you’ve seen a majestic schooner sailing through the waves with her sails raised high and her compass set for True North. Today, we’re talking to Dave McGinnis – Owner, Senior Captain and the man behind the scenes of the mighty vessel, Tall Ship Manitou, and Traverse Tall Ship Co.

Dave McGinnis, Owner and Senior Captain of Traverse Tall Ship Co.

Dave McGinnis, Owner and Senior Captain of Traverse Tall Ship Co.

TCT: “How did you end up making your way to Traverse City?”

DM: “The Manitou, actually.  She was originally out in Burlington, Vermont and I was her First Mate. In 1990, when John Elder, the previous owner of Traverse Tall Ship Co., purchased her and needed to sail her back to Traverse City, I jumped at the chance to be a part of the crew. I was made Captain of that trip, sailed her through the St. Lawrence Seaway and around the Great Lakes and brought her here to Traverse City.”

TCT: “And what was your first thought of Traverse City when you got here?”

DM: “When I first heard the boat was headed to the Great Lakes I pictured it sailing around in an “industrial rust belt”.  I had absolutely no idea how beautiful Michigan was, Traverse City especially.  There was a short time where I moved to Maine for work and once I was away from Traverse I realized even more how special it was – so I came back fairly quick!”

The Tall Ship Manitou out sailing in West Grand Traverse Bay

The Tall Ship Manitou sails north through West Grand Traverse Bay 

TCT: “What are some of those reasons that makes Traverse City so special to you?”

DM: “I am in love with this town and this area – the beaches, the blue waters, the food and the culture that we have (especially for the size town that we are) – you couldn’t ask for a more well-rounded place to be.”

Tall Ship Manitou sailing in West Grand Traverse Bay on a sunny day

A perfect day for a sail on the Tall Ship Manitou in West Grand Traverse Bay. 

TCT: “How is it that you pursued sailing as a career?”

DM: “I grew up in New Jersey heading to Normandy Beach every summer to our summer home.  That’s where I really fell in love with the water (after being fairly tentative around it during my early years – I actually didn’t learn to swim until I was nine years old). I went to college to study photography and I came across the windjammer overnight cruises you could go on.  After saving up as much money as I could I went out on my first trip, and then another one.  When the ship had an opening in their crew a couple years later, I went for it.  By then, the captain knew who I was and knew that I was serious about sailing and being on the boats. I’ve been sailing ever since.”

Looking up at the main sails of the Tall Ship Manitou

A fantastic shot looking up at the craftsmanship of the Tall Ship Manitou. 

TCT: “What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?

DM: “I honestly fell in love with the romance of these classic schooners. I’m somewhat of a history buff and these old vessels give people a taste of what it was like to sail the seas 100 years ago. I feel lucky every day that I can offer an opportunity for average citizens and visitors to have access to the bay.”

TCT: “We have to ask (as we do with any of our community guest profiles) – any fun facts that most people don’t know about you?”

DM: “Hmm. I love Japanese monster movies (especially anything with Godzilla) and I hate rats. I’ve also started to learn about and drink single malt scotch – which I really enjoy!”

Song of the Lakes perform on Tall Ship Manitou

Song of the Lakes perform on Tall Ship Manitou

Slipping Among the Lady’s Slippers at Pyatt Lake

Cherry Trees in Bloom on the Old Mission Peninsula

Cherry Trees in Bloom on the Old Mission Peninsula


Flowers, flowers everywhere! Well, after the long winter and the cold spring we’ve had, it’s been a nice treat. The thing is, instead of taking turns, everything seems to be blooming at once! No sooner did the cherry trees start than the apple trees began — then the lilacs and the crabapples. Here in Traverse City we’ve had a week of amazing color (and lots of pollen) out in our orchards and deep in our forests.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper

This weekend, dazed by Sunday’s bright sunshine, my daughter Liz and I took ourselves to Pyatt Lake,  a little jewel of woods and wetlands near Bowers Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula. This late in the spring, the usual woodland flowers (trilliums, trout lilies, dutchman’s breeches) are faded or disappeared. Instead, we had a wonderful surprise: dozens and dozens of pink lady’s slippers — Michigan’s most lovely native orchid — and hundreds of fringed polygalas, which are so intensely colored that they might as well be orchids.

Fringed Polygala

Fringed Polygala



Some flowers show best because they grow in the shadows, and these are two good examples. So is the lovely starflower, which gets its name from the way it glows in the gloomy shade of deep woodlands. I was so excited that I had to run back to the car for the camera!

Naturalists call these flowers “spring ephemerals” because they’re here for such a brief time, and it’s well wiorth taking a trip out into the woods to see them before they’re gone. Fortunately, the Traverse City area is one of the best places in the country to see these beautiful blossoms.

Trilliums in Dappled Shade

Trilliums in Dappled Shade

Some spring flowers don’t seem so shy – like the huge white blossoms of the large-flowered trillium, the signature wildflower of our northern woodlands. Trilliums (so called because each plant bears only three leaves and a single three-petaled flower) can be an impressive sight when they carpet the spring forest. Their sheer numbers can sometimes conceal smaller, more delicate neighbors like the trailing arbutus, bloodroot and starflower.

Starflowers on a mossy log

Starflowers on a mossy log

Other spring ephemerals are hard to hide, even among the showy trilliums. Blue hepaticas and violets, red columbines, yellow trout lilies and bellworts, delicate pink spring beauties are easily recognized by their bright colors. (And in the case of the latter, by their sweet scent, which fills the woods on warm spring days.)

Even some of the smaller white flowers can make an impression by the sheer whimsicality of their shape. Dutchman’s Breeches, for instance, really do look like nothing so much as pairs of upside-down puffy white bloomers.

And there’s no hiding the superstars of the spring forest. Northern Michigan’s native orchids — the pink, yellow and showy lady’s slippers — are rare standouts in any setting and easily draw attention to themselves.

May and June are the best months for viewing spring ephemerals in the forests around Traverse City, but I’m guessing you’ll be able to see some of the early ones already. -Usually, upland woodlands break into bloom first because they’re farther from the cooling influence of the cold Lake Michigan waters, while coastal forests can still be in flower for a week or two later. Here are several prime spots for spring wildlflower viewing:

Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve. Located just outside the city on the banks of the Boardman River, this preserve encompasses several miles of mixed forest, wetlands and meadows and is particularly rich in plant, animal and bird specials. The Boardman River Nature Center conducts regular spring wildflower walks and publishes a self-guiding brochure for those who would rather explore on their own. For information, call 231-941-0960 or on line at

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 71,000-acre national park includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and a wide variety of plant and animal habitats. The hardwood forests near the dunes are particularly rich in spring flower displays, and the park conducts spring “ranger walks” to them. For information call (231) 326-5134 or on line at

Grass River Natural Area. Just minutes from the bustling Shanty Creek Resort, this 1,143-acre preserve features several different forest ecosystems and includes a well-developed network of trails, boardwalks and observation platforms where visitors can observe rare orchids and other wetland species without getting their feet wet. For information about guided walks, call 231-533-8314 or on line at

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. This five-county volunteer organization supervises a network of 28 nature preserves, and conducts guided walks, hikes and other expeditions throughout the year – including several spring wildflower walks. For information, call 231-929-7911 or on line at