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Traverse City’s Latest Foodie Boom: Artisanal Cheesemaking


Already famed for its wines, craft beers and innovative farm-to-table cuisine, this northern Michigan resort town is now acquiring a new reputation as a center of artisanal cheesemaking.

“People just love cheese. It makes them giddy and goofy — tasting it, talking about it,” says Sue Kurta,who left a promising career on Wall Street to become  the “big cheese” at Boss Mouse, a small-batch creamery in the village of Kingsley, just south of  Traverse City. “As foods go, cheese is very accessible.”

Even among small cheese operations, Kurta’s one-woman operation is tiny: she produces about 100 pounds of aged natural-rind cheese a week – from an aqed cheddar and a Monasio (an Italian-style”washed curd” cheese that’s a bit like Monterey Jack) to a nutty “sweet Swiss” and several varieties of mozzarella.


The area’s reputation for fine cheeses actually began several years ago with the advent of the Leelanau Cheese Co. John Hoyt and his French-born wife, Anne, produce an aged Swiss-style raclette and a variety of soft fresh Fromage Blanc cheeses. When they started their operation – using space behind the wine-tasting room at Black Star Farms, between Traverse City and nearby Suttons Bay — the Hoyts weren’t sure they could wean customers away from their preference for imported European varieties.

They needn’t have worried. After their aged raclette was voted Best of Show at the 24th American Cheese Society competition in 2007, demand for their products has skyrocketed. (It didn’t hurt when superstar chef Mario Batali confessed in the pages of Bon Appetit that he uses their raclette on his pizza.) Traverse City restaurants regularly feature their cheeses, and most retail stores in the area also carry them. Last year they moved into a larger space of their own, where they can substantially increase production.


They now produce around 50,000 pounds of cheese per year. And although that may sound like a lot of cheese, they still consider themselves a fairly small-scale operation.

“We’re never going to be terribly big because there isn’t enough milk being produced in this area for a really big cheesemaking operation,” says Anne Hoyt. “There just aren’t enough cows.”

In keeping with the area’s passion for locally-based agriculture, both the Hoyts and Sue Kurta make their cheese with milk from nearby dairy herds. The Hoyts get theirs from farmer Denis Garvin in the nearby village of Cedar, while Boss Mouse’s milk comes from the same herd that produces Traverse City’s signature ice cream, Moomer’s (voted “best scoop in America” by viewers of “Good Morning America”).

But Mark and Amy Spitznagel of Northport have gone a step further:  the cheese at their Idyll Farms Creamery is made from milk produced by their own herd of Alpine and Saanen goats. Now in their second year of business, they’re nearing their goal of 150 milking goats – the country’s largest pasture-raised goat herd – producing up to 80,000 pounds of French-style goat cheeses (chevre, camembert, crottin and tommes) a year. They, too, are playing starring roles in the area’s bustling restaurant and farm-market culture.

Idyll Farms (4)

“I think this has the potential to be pretty huge,” says Stuart Mitchell of Cherry Capital Foods, a company that markets products from small farmers and food creators. “Frankly, the sky’s the limit right now. Farm-to-table cuisine is very important to many restaurants, and we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm for cheeses that reflect the taste and personality of this region.”

Just as important, local cheesemakers are receiving lots of attention from the traveling public. The new Leelanau Cheese creamery/tasting room was designed expressly with visitors in mind; customers can even watch through a large glass wall as the cheese is made.

Idyll Farms, too, is impressive enough to be a destination in its own right. Perched on a high bluff above Lake Michigan, the 200-acre farm is over a century old and features cheese-curing caves made from huge glacial boulders, as well as a handsome set of cupola-topped designer barns and outbuildings. They’re open for scheduled tours, too.

20+ Tasty Brews at Five of Traverse City’s Craft Breweries

Traverse City is home to world-class dining, award winning wineries, stunning views, sugar sand beaches, and the best sunsets in all the world, but did you know that it’s also one the best beer cities in America?

Back in 2012, the Travel Channel named Traverse City as the best emerging beer town in America. Just two short years ago, they wrote of how impressive it was for such a small town to have four microbreweries.  Boy, how things have changed…

Traverse City now has over 10 breweries, with more on the way. So when Traverse City Tourism invited me to cover the local beer scene, I knew a trip was in order – there were so many I haven’t had a chance to try!

I spent last weekend exploring five Traverse City breweries we hadn’t visited before. We drank, we talked with the staff and made friends with the other customers, and then drank some more.

On to the show! Here’s the scoop on our weekend:

Stop #1: Brewery Terra Firma3d printed tap handle at Terra Firma (1)

Located just five miles from the heart of downtown Traverse City, Brewery Terra Firma describes itself as both a brewery and an agricultural destination. They embrace eco-conscious practices like sustainable brewing methods and innovative waste/water recycling operations. They opened just one short year ago, and already have an impressive lineup.

What I drank:

  • Beehive Honey Blond, 5.4% ABV
  • Manitou Amber Ale, 5.3% ABV
  • Scarborough Fair, Herb beer, 5.8%
  • John Henry Stout, 6.2% ABV
  • Magnum Hospitality IPA, 8% ABV
  • Cherry Festive Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Ale 7.5%
  • Stillhouse Stout, 7.5%

My favorite:

It’s a tie:

Magnum Hospitality IPA had a strong floral nose, but was intensely hoppy on the palate. My favorite kind of IPA, there was nothing subtle about this one.

Cherry Festive Ale – I was surprised how much I liked this – I’m normally not a fan of fruity beers. This one is made with local cherries from Kings Orchards, and aged in Traverse City Whiskey Bourbon Barrels. It’s light compared to other bourbon barrel beers I’ve had, but packs quite a punch. You’ll have to be careful with this one!

Fun fact: Head brewer John Niedermaier was the former head brewer at the now-defunct Traverse City Brewing Company. When John decided to open Brewery Terra Firma, he discovered that the bank owned his recipes from TCBC – he actually had to buy them back!Beer at Rare Bird

Stop #2: Rare Bird Brewpub

Rare Bird is Traverse City’s newest brewpub, opening their doors just two  months ago. They are located in a gorgeous red brick building right next to Patisserie Amie.

Everything they brew is in small batches right now, so when we arrived they only had two  of their own beers available, but there were plenty of other craft selections to choose from. They also have a delicious and creative menu – I highly recommend the pork belly sliders!

What I drank:

  • Her Name Was Amber, Amber Ale, 4.7%
  • WhipPourWill, Belgian Wit with orange peels & coriander, 4%

My favorite:

Loved them both, but WhipPourWill was my favorite of the two. It was a spicy, well-balanced Belgian.

Fun fact: The owners, Nate and Tina, met in a brewery, but their first words weren’t about beer – they were about birds. They are both birding enthusiasts, hence the name of the brewery. Workshop Brewing Co

Stop #3: Workshop Brewing Company

Located just west of the downtown area, Workshop Brewing Co. is the embodiment of their motto: Nature. Community. Craft. The tasting room has a big bar perfect to belly up to and make friends at, and tons of seating both indoors and outside for larger groups. They also have fun bar games, including one where you have to try to swing a ring on a string onto a hook on the wall. I watched the same guy try this for the 90 minutes I was there- it’s addictive (and probably frustrating)!

Workshop has a huge lineup of beers, and there’s something on that menu for everyone, no matter what your palate.

What I drank:

  • Uncapper, Honey Stock Ale, 5.5% ABV
  • Trotsky’s Axe, Belgian Pale Ale, 5.3% ABV
  • 10lbs Cascade, IPA, 5.5% ABV
  • Wrecking Bar, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter, 8.5% ABV
  • Crowbar, Belgian Dark Ale, 5% ABV
  • Tenpenny, American Blond Ale, 4.9% ABV
  • Tenfranc, Experiment Ale (Tenpenny with Belgian yeast), 4.9% ABV
  • Sickle, Saison, 7.5% ABV

My favorite:

Crowbar – This Belgian dark had virtually no bitterness, and tons of great Belgian flavor.

Fun fact: Workshop actually occupies the space that Right Brain Brewery originated in.

Stop #4: The Filling Station

The Filling Station is a family owned and operated brewery that opened in 2012 located in Traverse City’s former train station. The space is family friendly, with sandboxes out front for kiddos to play in, tons of outdoor and indoor seating, and TV’s all around. The staff was so friendly, even in the middle of a crazy dinnertime rush – you can tell they really love their jobs. Their menu consists of pizza and salads – probably the best pizza in Traverse City, which made this the perfect dinnertime stop.Filling Station Flight

In homage to their location near the railroad, each beer is called a “track”, when they run out of one, a little sign goes up indicating that it’s been “Derailed”, and the flights come in these cool little train holders.

What I drank:

  • Empire Imperial IPA, 8.5% ABV
  • Walla Walla IPA, 7.6% ABV
  • Liverpool Porter, 5.2% ABV
  • Liesing Amber Lager, 4.8% ABV
  • Manchester Mild, 3.7% ABV
  • St. Clair Stout, 4.5% ABV

My favorite:

Walla Walla IPA – a perfect pairing with my pizza, Walla Walla packs a punch without being overwhelming. It’s crisp and light with just the right balance of hoppiness.

Fun fact: If you order a flight, hold on to the selection sheet you filled out. The train on the paper will face the same way as the train flight holder – that’s how you know which beer is where. If you lose the paper, you’ll either have to guess or ask. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Stop #5: Right Brain Brewery

Full disclosure on this one – I had been to Right Brain back when it was in The Workshop’s location, but not since they moved to their gorgeous and HUGE new space in 2012.Flight at Right Brain

Right Brain was the perfect last stop – after four other breweries that day, I was worried that my palate would be blown out, and I wouldn’t be able to taste anything. But thanks to Right Brain’s unique beers, my palate woke itself back up, and I was treated to some of the most surprising and creative tastes I had had all day.  They are well known for their wacky beer flavors like Spear Beer (with real asparagus added during the brewing process) and  Mangalitsa Pig Porter, brewed with pig heads and bones.

What I drank:

  • Concrete Dinosaur, Brown Rye IPA, 7.2% ABV
  • Blue Magic, Lavender Ale, 4.5% ABV
  • Hefe Cubano, Coffee Hefeweizen, 5.9% ABV
  • Midnight Rendezvous, Black Ale, 5% ABV
  • North Shore Iron Works, Barleywine, 8.9% ABV
  • Looping Owl, Barrel Aged Amber, 6.8%
  • Cherry Pie Whole, Amber Ale made with whole cherry pies, 5.2%
  • TC Cherry Mash, Hybrid Cherry Wine Ale, 3.9% ABV

My favorite:

Hefe Cubano – Light in color, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. One sip, though, and I was sold – the coffee comes through loud and clear on the palate, and is balanced out by sweet banana notes.

Bonus: Biggest Surprise: Cherry Pie Whole – I had this the first year they came out with it, and wasn’t a big fan. It’s come a long way! The cherry pie flavor is well layered now – first you get the filling, then some great maltiness, and end on rich, biscuity, pie crust flavor.

Fun fact: There’s a salon attached to Right Brain called Salon Saloon, and those getting their hair cut can actually order a Right Brain beer to enjoy during their services. Russ Springsteen, founder of Right Brain, began his career as a hair stylist, and wanted to keep that part of his life alive in his new venture.

Five  breweries is a lot to do in a single day, especially with the goal of tasting as many of their selections as possible. But this was work, and someone has to do the hard jobs, right?  I would strongly recommend that instead of following in our exact footsteps, you select one or two to visit per trip, and really spend some time in them – each boasts its own unique vibe along with unique beer. No matter what your taste, whether you’re a seasoned craft beer pro or new to the scene, Traverse City breweries have something on tap for you.

Special thanks to the AmericInn in Traverse City for hosting me this weekend. It’s a great property in a great location, and their staff was top-notch. I also would not have been able to make this trip happen without my trusty designated driver – a must-have whenever you’re out exploring breweries!



Trisha Verma is the co-founder of Drink Michigan, a company dedicated to promoting and celebrating Michigan wine, beer, and spirits. A lifelong Michigander, she enjoys spending her weekends exploring the state, looking for great craft beer, good wine, strong whisky, and new friends. Luckily, she never has to look far. (All photos courtesy of Trisha and Drink Michigan) 

Traverse City Icon To Star at This Year’s Buckley Old Engine Show

A huge Case steam tractor at the Buckley Old Engine Show...

A huge Case steam tractor at the Buckley Old Engine Show…


I’ve got good news for those of you who’ve wondered whatever became of the Spirit of Traverse City — the miniature steam locomotive train that used to take passengers around the lawns and pathways of Clinch Park. Newly refurbished and restored, the little train will make its debut this month at the Buckley Old Engine Show, just a few miles south of here.

Two years ago, the Spirit of Traverse City was deeded to the Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club, which started the annual Old Engine Show back in 1967. Since then, volunteers have completely restored the engine and cars from top to bottom and laid out a track, complete with an enclosed trestle.

“We even added a caboose, which the original train never had,” says club spokesman Jim Luper. “It’s the cutest thing you ever saw. We’re really excited. Now visitors can ride two trains – the Spirit of Traverse City and our 1918 steam train.”

Every year on the third weekend in August, the little town of Buckley explodes into roaring, clanking, chugging, shuddering life as more than 50,000 visitors descend on the Old Engine Show, one of the largest gatherings of huge antique machines in the world. This year’s show runs Aug. 14-17.

Farmall tractors!

Farmall tractors!

Hundreds of these iron behemoths – steam traction engines, rock crushers, balers, sawmills, more than 700 gas and oil-fueled engines and well over 1,000 antique tractors — are on display during this four-day event. It’s a mechanical wonderland of old-fashioned noise, steam and power – guaranteed to dispel any illusions you may have had about the “quiet past” of the 19th century. Confected of gleaming brass, polished steel, engine oil and woodsmoke, the Old Engine Show is a four-pronged assault on the senses. And people love it.

Since its beginnings, it has evolved from what club members cheerfully admit was “a bunch of men showing off their old engines” into an immense labor of love that encompasses hundreds of families — sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and grandparents who construct new exhibits, maintain the club grounds, run the exhibits, and direct traffic.

The Engine Show occupies its own 200-acre preserve just west of the village. Within its boundaries, the club has created a small settlement of its own  — a recreated turn-of-the-century Main Street from a typical Michigan lumber town (which is what Buckley once was) with its own train depot, switch house, blacksmith shop, leather shop, cobbler, barber, print shop and town hall.

A craft demonstration...

A craft demonstration…

Beyond the sheer impressiveness of watching an enormous 250-horsepower steam engine at work, there’s a long-term educational strategy at work in Buckley — to preserve and appreciate the ingenuity of the 19th-century craftsmen and technicians who created the first generation of useful agricultural and industrial machines. This year’s show, for instance, includes a special exhibit of five engines (three steam, one diesel and one water-powered) that once belonged to auto pioneer Henry Ford and the Henry Ford Museum.

There are even attractions for those who can’t get themselves excited about wandering through a labyrinth of enormous antique engines. There are parades each day, a petting zoo, an enormous flea market with 600 market stalls, demonstrations of traditional non-mechanical skills like soap making, spinning and weaving, regular dances and “old-fashioned music” recitals from over 200 musicians. And on a hot summer day there’s really nothing like the experience of tasting ice cream that’s been churned by a steam engine!

The Buckley Old Engine Show grounds are located on M-37 between Traverse City and Cadillac. Tickets are $10 per day for adults (or $25 for a four-day pass.) Kids 15 and under are admitted free. More detailed information about the Buckley Old Engine Show can be found on their excellent web site:


Plein-Air Painting with Traverse City Artist Bill Hosner

“Life inspires my work – I live simply, work passionately and observe constantly.” – Bill Hosner

The Traverse City region is rich with sources of inspiration. The awe-inspiring scenery, incredible beaches, delectable dining, and award-winning wineries are just a few things that fuel creativity for many of the area’s artists. On living and painting here, local artist Bill Hosner states, “My work is now featured in national and international museum collections and exhibitions, but it is here that I return to center myself and do some of my best work.”

A recent visit with Bill provided a behind-the-scenes perspective on living and creating in Traverse City. During the visit, simplicity and minimalism were themes Bill continually wove into the conversation about his lifestyle. His gallery, studio and home are all one unit in the newer, multipurpose usage buildings off Woodmere Avenue. The gallery is pristine and features his paintings, library, local artisan furniture and selected inspirational quotes. The studio is half bedroom and half work space speckled with other artist’s paintings as well as Bill’s sketch wall. The simplicity of his lifestyle is what allows him to travel, teach, and continually create.

Bill Hosner Studio

As a plein-air artist Bill’s work is done entirely outside (with the exception of his daily sketches). Nature, water, and individuals dominate his works that are rich with texture, color, and hidden depth. He is continually inspired by the landscape, the people, the light and the energy in Traverse City.

Bill Hosner

When he’s not painting he enjoys all that Traverse City offers to its fullest. Favorites in the local culinary scene include AmicalRed Ginger, The Cook’s House, Bistro Fou Fou, and Tratorria Stella – “all are fabulous!” A periodic tour of the wineries, window-shopping downtown or in the Mercado at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons he notes are great getaways from work. Nostalgic at heart he also enjoys going to a Beach Bum’s game as it is “great fun and reminiscent of a kind of baseball that childhood memories are made of.”

Bill’s work is featured internationally and he has ample opportunities to live and work in many other incredible destinations. What is it about Traverse City that keeps him coming back? His reply is layered and begins with praise to the obvious natural beauty, “If you’re a plein-air painter like myself, this is the only place in Michigan to be.” He also appreciates the boundless cultural opportunities within the city and mentions a few of his preferred events and venues including, The National Writers Series, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, The Dennos Museum and Interlochen.

“There are a great number of talented people in Traverse City that are in cross-venue creative fields, writers, singers, musicians, dancers, actors . . . and I enjoy the social intercourse I have with many of them. It enhances my own creative efforts.”

Bill’s studio is located at 1129 Woodmere Avenue Studio H. A sample of his paintings are also online but to fully experience his artistry a visit to his studio is needed. Please call ahead to check for hours of operation.

Bill Hosner Studio


A Local’s Perspective During Summer

Born with a sense of wanderlust I am always excited about different travel opportunities, large and small. Ten years ago when I moved to Traverse City I never would have imagined a time when I would decline a road trip or feel excited to return home after a vacation. As a newbie to the area, I was familiar with the most popular tourist attractions and visiting them never got stale. On the flip side, my desire to explore more of Traverse City and Northwest Michigan continues to burn strong even during the summer, the busiest tourist season of the year!

The most recent accolade from named Traverse City as a Top 10 Small Town and praised the city for “its stable economy, captivating natural attractions, lively community festivals, four seasons of recreational activities” and more. This award as well as others showcase the exciting nature of Traverse City and make me enthusiastic about exploring “TC” as a tourist in my own town. A few of my favorite activities include running in races along our many scenic courses, frequent trips the beach (Good Harbor is the best), and visiting the area’s brewpubs. Solstice

The Glen Arbor Solstice half marathon kicked off my summer adventures and it was an awesome way to begin the season. Being my first half, I was nervous about the course and the last two miles. All of that nervous energy was somehow magically transformed into fuel that my body used throughout the race. Even when I thought I was getting tired the incredible scenery pulled me through, especially at Inspiration Point and through the narrows in Glen Arbor. Would I do it again? The answer is a resounding yes, and if you are a runner you should too!

This year’s cooler temperatures were great for the race and continue to be perfect for running or hiking. I enjoy the refreshing breezes and appreciate the season for what it is and have not let it interfere with my summer agenda, especially when a beach day is needed! Whether it’s mid 70′s or high 80′s there’s always an ideal day to visit Good Harbor beach in Leelanau County. Even on the cloudy days there’s a magical feeling when your toes hit the sand and the immense view of Lake Michigan emerges. Just be sure to pack a few layers as you never know what the weather will bring.

Following many of these active adventures is usually a visit to one of our area’s many brewpubs. A recent favorite is the Workshop Brewing Company. The beer is top notch, the food is great (the People’s Grilled Cheese is amazing) and the casual atmosphere make it one of our preferred places to hang out with local friends and visitors alike. It’s also family friendly with a kid’s menu (that even has buttered noodles on it) and a variety of vintage arcade games to keep our little ones entertained.

Every summer in Traverse City provides a new canvas for creating memories while enjoying sunsetthese and many other activities. It’s truly amazing to live and play in this evolving city that is rich with accolades. The wanderlust still tugs at my soul, but it is not hard to fulfill in this incredible area of Northwest Michigan! The best part about each adventure is that I am never too far from home…


About the Author: Coryn Briggs is the new Digital Marketing & Design Specialist at Traverse City Tourism. A Detroit area native, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a masters in Recreation and Tourism Management at Michigan State University. She has lived and worked in Traverse City since 2004 and enjoys baking, thrift shopping, running, visiting Traverse City’s many brewpubs, beaches, and recreational trails. She is married to Jay Briggs, winemaker at 45 North Vineyard and Winery. They have two young daughters.



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.