This is how it should look by Saturday!

This is how it should look by Saturday!

By MIKE NORTON

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

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

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

Cherry  Blossoms in Leelanau

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

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

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

Handing out flags at last year's Cherry Festival Parade

Handing out flags at last year's Cherry Festival Parade

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

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

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

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

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

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