Popular lakeside town fights 'festival fatigue'
In this undated photo provided by the Traverse City Tourism, people enjoy a summer day in the Open Space park by Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, Mich. Some local residents say festivals occupy the park too much in summer, while others say it’s a reasonable price to pay for a strong tourism economy. (AP Photo/Traverse City Tourism)
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Lou Colombo insists he's no Grinch and enjoys festivals. But so many were held along this Lake Michigan town's grassy waterfront over the summer that he applied to City Hall to throw a bash of his own, called "The Quiet Festival." The event lineup would consist of absolutely nothing.
Officials turned him down, but got the message — from Colombo and others. The City Commission is reconsidering its policy on using parks for festivals.
"We're not trying to shut down tourism," said Mayor Michael Estes. "But we're trying to ask people who put on these events to be more courteous to our neighborhoods."
The idea of "festival fatigue" anywhere in this struggling state drips with irony.
Well before the nationwide economic downturn, Michigan was a mess. Chained to the auto industry's free-fall, it lost population as unemployment soared. Even Traverse City, which had no auto plants but depended on vacationers from hard-hit Detroit 250 miles to the southeast, felt the ripple effects.
Yet with conditions improving and tourism booming again, some locals — particularly retirees who chose the area for its beauty and small-town atmosphere — don't want too much of a good thing.
"I'm kind of pleased when fall comes and things slow down a bit," said Colombo, 75.
Others say keeping things quiet is the wrong priority in a place where college graduates and young families struggle to find well-paying jobs.
"The bottom line is that these festivals bring money into Traverse City, and we're hardly in a position where we're so rich that we can leave it on the table," said Andrew McFarlane, founder of a wine and art festival and editor of an online guide to the area's culinary culture.
The Great Lakes region is trying to shed its Rust Belt image by developing a "blue economy" based on its abundant fresh water. Tourism plays a big part in the strategy, which is churning out boardwalks, bike paths and festivals along the 3,126 miles of shoreline in Michigan alone.
Traverse City, population 15,000, has been a top destination. A local study found that tourism pumped $1.2 billion into the city economy last year, up 28 percent from 2006.
Nestled on Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, it has a lively downtown and a burgeoning arts scene. Nearby countryside is dotted with cherry orchards and forests. Wineries, microbreweries and farm-to-table restaurants draw raves from celebrity chef Mario Batali, who has a summer home in the area.
The weeklong National Cherry Festival has been around nearly a century. In the past decade, it's gotten lots of company.