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National Cherry Festival Draws an International Crowd

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Along with visitors from around the state and country, the National Cherry Festival also brings in people from around the world.

At the Welcome Center down at the Open Space, you can the map where visitors drop a pin in their hometown – or home country. There’s a large concentration of visitors from Michigan and the Great Lakes Region. And there’s a big cluster from the Denver area.

But over at the world map, you can see visitors from all over the globe. There’s representation from Australia, China, Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Uganda, and Brazil – just to name a few. It makes the National Cherry Festival an international favorite.

It’s a new experience for Adam McArthur from Melbourne, Australia. It’s his first cherry pie and his first trip to Michigan. “It took me, it was a 15 hour flight from Sydney to Dallas. Then another 3 hours to Detroit. Then a trip up in the car, I think it took about 3-4 hours to get here from Lansing,” he says.

He’s one of many international visitors here this year. Arielle DePaolo-Stoyanov is from Los Angeles, but visiting with her husband from Bulgaria. “We’re really lucky, we didn’t know there was a cherry festival. We went cherry picking this morning in an orchard. And we wound up here,” she says. “We wanted to see all five Great Lakes so that’s what we decided to do. This is awesome… just so much to learn. This country is amazing… we like to go on the road and just look around.”

Before visitors reach the Open Space, may stop by the welcome tables at Traverse City Tourism. Sue Holcomb says, “The maps are real big for people to get their bearings of where to go. The Cherry Festival, for sure the events…. The orchard tours are real big, people wanting to know about those tours,” she says. “Saturday was probably our biggest (day), probably close to 380 people coming by for information. We’re hitting between 150-200 each day since then.”

Berdakh Kaniyazov is from Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. “Traverse City, it’s another world I would say. The view, the nature, it’s natural, friendly I would say.”  He likes what he’s seen so far. “It’s the first time I’m in the US… I haven’t been before,” he says. And he likes the Cherry Festival too- sampling the food from local vendors. “For the food, it’s international. You can find a lot of food of lots of nationalities. We chose the Mexican one. We’re trying that for the first time.”

Polly Gray is the Welcome Center Director. She and her volunteers have seen it all. “The number of people throughout the world that end up here! We have them on the map all over the place. I helped a guy find, get a pin so he could mark it from Uganda.”

They’re not always from far away – a high school marching band from Wisconsin is joining the parades this year. Juan Gulrud with the Lakeside Lutheran (WI) HS Marching Band says the band takes a trip every year, and hits all kinds of tourist spots and activities along the way. “Yesterday we went to a gold mine. Today it’s cherry festival. Later tonight we are marching (in the Community Royale Parade).”

”I think these trips are super cool,” he adds. “It gives us an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone. See things we really wouldn’t see if we were staying home during the summer. But Gulrud says the cups of cherries for sale at the festival are a little pricey for his high school budget. “I feel like they’re incredibly expensive for just a couple of cherries. So I don’t know if I’m going to get one, maybe split one with a friend so it’s more like $2.50 each instead of $5 for a mini-cup.”

But it’s well worth the investment for Adam McArthur, downing his own cup of cherries and then paying another $4 for a slice of cherry pie. He was a cherry fan before – but these just hit different. “One thing I notice about the cherries here – in Australia when you eat cherries they kind of stay on the ‘pip’ a little bit. Whereas here when you eat them it just comes straight off. They’re really sweet, it’s just awesome. We got a cup of cherries and I just ate them all in five minutes.” And as for the pie? “Five stars. That’s so good!”

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