Launching balloons at the West Bay Open Space on Friday Night. Launching balloons at the West Bay Open Space on Friday Night.
  By MIKE NORTON Well, the first-ever Grand Traverse Balloon Classic certainly drew the crowds down to Traverse City’s bayfront  - and it was a thrill to see those lovely balloons drifting off across the evening sky on Friday night - which may have been the best weather they had all weekend! There are other methods of, ahem, achieving altitude, however. Flights of an entirely different kind will be happening this coming Saturday night just down the beach at the Holiday Inn West Bay, when the TC Parrotheads, our local Jimmy Buffett  admiration society, holds its Fourth Annual Wastin’ Away on Grand Traverse Bay Party.  There’ll be music from Tim Krause and the Jimmy Buffett tribute band Air Margaritaville, plus Polynesian dancers, drink and food specials and a silent auction. tcphc2010001 Anybody who knows me can testify that it’s not difficult to persuade me to get out my loud tropical shirt, straw hat and flipflops for an evening of music and genteel intoxication, but this is what they call a “party with a purpose.” The proceeds are channeled off to our local Habitat for Humanity crew and the Goodwill Inn. The party lasts from 3 to 10 p.m., and at $10 per person, the admission is a great deal. Just make sure you dress with appropriate flair! If you have a somewhat more traditional definition of “wildlife,” on the other hand, you might consider heading upstream to the Boardman River Nature Center this weekend for the Grand Traverse Conservation District’s Boardman River Nature Fest, a free event featuring live raptors, kayaking, hands-on fly-casting, music and other activities, programs and crafts. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to check out this new facility, located on the west side of Sabin Pond on South Cass Road, but it’s a really wonderful place to learn about the beauty and the diversity of the natural world - especially for kids. (Personally, I really love to escape from the beach once in a while and hike the shady nature trails along the Boardman.) Saturday’s festival, which will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., would be a great opportunity to see what they have to offer; nearly 20 environmental and educational groups will be on hand. And here’s a cool thing. Ordinarily, in this time of rapid development, you’ll find us mourning the disappearance of a favorite stretch of beach - but in Acme Township the exact opposite is happening! The township, whose frontage along East Bay is almost all in private hands, has acquired around four acres of property near the intersection of US 31 and M-72 and is busy turning it into public parkland. The current project looks great - and it’s only part of a much bigger effort, whose goal is to preserve up to a mile of bayshore in Acme Township for public use. Thanks to state grant monies and funds from the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Acme is doing its residents - and all the rest of us - a huge favor!