West Grand Traverse Bay Under Ice (That hump off to the right is Power island.)

West Grand Traverse Bay Under Ice (That hump off to the right is Power island.)

By MIKE NORTON

Sometimes it's the little things that get us excited around here. The Bay freezing over, for example.

You’d think this sort of thing happened all the time up here in the frozen North Country. After all, most of our inland lakes -- even the big ones -- have been sporting a nice white coat of snow and ice for months, and Grand Traverse Bay doesn’t look that much bigger.

The thing is, it’s deep. And it takes a lot of time for that water to get cold enough to freeze. And the weather has to be still, so you don’t have wind-blown waves keeping it churned up. It’s been several years since the Bay hit its official freeze point (past Power Island in West Bay) and that usually doesn’t happen until much later in the winter. But this time it happened in early February. Already people are heading out onto the ice to fish and frolic, and any day there’ll be iceboats out sailing around on it, too.

As you can tell, things can get a little slow around here in midwinter. So when residents of Suttons Bay started encountering characters dressed in furry white Abominable Snowman costumes lounging around their shops, taverns and restaurants last year, they weren’t alarmed. In fact, they created a festival to mark the occasion.

Yeti behind the bar, serving some locals at Eddie's.

Yeti behind the bar, serving some locals at Eddie's.

The first annual “YetiFest” garnered a healthy 1,000 out-of-town participants for what turned out to be a charmingly wholesome hometown festival – a sort of “Mayberry on Ice.” Encouraged by their success (and a little surprised as well) the organizers decided to make it a permanent event.

This year’s YetiFest will be held Feb. 15, and in addition to the ubiquitous Snowmen roaming around Suttons Bay, the day-long celebration features such events as a winter bicycle race, a four-on-four pond hockey tournament, a “kid’s expeditionary parade” and family-friendly films at the village movie house. And, of course, the annual “Yeti look-alike contest,” which sounds more like a celebration of luxuriant beards than anything else.

For those of you who don’t know the place, Suttons Bay is a picturesque little coastal village about 15 miles north of us with a nice blend of specialty shops, galleries and restaurants. As the home base of the Inland Seas Education Association and  the northern terminus of the 12-mile Leelanau Trail, it draws large numbers of boaters and cyclists during summer – but its winters can be substantially quieter. Hence, the creation of YetiFest.

“It’s really just a way for us to get out and enjoy the winter, and to share that enjoyment with other people, said local store owner Karen Pontius, who helped put together the festival under the auspices of the village Chamber of Commerce, the local school district and several environmental groups.

Pontius’s husband, Kim, was probably responsible for the original 2013 Yeti sightings. He even created an entirely spurious history of how the elusive Himalayan creatures ended up in Northern Michigan, as well as a fictitious organization (the North American Yeti Society And Yeti Education & Research) to study them.

Implausible as it may be, the link isn’t entirely a missing one. Sightings of the Snowman’s North American cousin -- the Sasquatch or Bigfoot -- occasionally make headlines in local papers. But the folks in Suttons Bay believe they have an even stronger connection, since their village lies in one of the world’s most productive cherry-growing areas and is surrounded by cherry orchards.

The Yeti-Cherry connection: National Cherry Queen Meg Howard with a pair of Abominables.

The Yeti-Cherry connection: National Cherry Queen Meg Howard with a pair of Abominables.

Like the Yeti, cherries are native to central Asia. If the one species could successfully be transplanted to northern Michigan, they ask, why not the other? Also, it’s probably no coincidence that February is National Cherry Month.

The festival isn’t primarily a business event, however. According to Pontius, any proceeds are donated to fund improvements to the village by the Chamber, the Suttons Bay Schools, and Traverse Area Recreational and Transportation Trails, Inc., the nonprofit group that builds and manages the region’s network of cycling, hiking and ski trails.

For the Yeti-intolerant, several other events are also taking place in and around Traverse City that same weekend. One is the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival, held Feb. 13-16, where nationally-known comedians take the stage in theatres and performance venues around downtown Traverse City, while the streets outside fill up with winter themed events - including a winter ferris wheel. And on the nearby Old Mission Peninsula, local wineries are celebrating the varietal that made them famous with Romancing the Riesling, in which they showcase their best Rieslings, each perfectly paired with food.

Skaters on Front Street during the TC Winter Comedy Arts Festival

Skaters on Front Street during the TC Winter Comedy Arts Festival

See? We DO know how to have a good time in the winter!