Volunteers put in hours of setup before festival kicks off

Volunteers have been busy since Monday, getting everything ready, and crews were putting on finishing touches Thursday night.

The National Cherry Festival is almost here. Events get underway Friday afternoon.

Volunteers have been busy since Monday, getting everything ready, and crews were putting on finishing touches Thursday night.

â??I was here this year at 6:30 Monday morning and I've been here constantly since,â?? said Mike Jones, a volunteer at the entertainment stage. â??I'll be here all next week, so I don't get to see much else.â??

It takes a lot of work from hundreds, even thousands of volunteers.

Thursday night, volunteers came to the Open Space to pick up their credentials, t-shirts, and handbooks. They were treated to free food from Outback Steakhouse as well as live music.

â??We just really want to show our appreciation for the hard work they're going to put in throughout the next week,â?? said Anne Varga, the Grand Buffet event director.

â??It takes a lot of great people,â?? said National Cherry Festival Director Trevor Tkach. â??Really, we couldn't have the celebration without these great volunteers.â??

More than 2,000 volunteers will be hard at work on the Fourth of July and throughout the eight day National Cherry Festival.

There was still work to be done hours before everything kicked off.

â??We've got a lot of signs to still put up. We've got to make sure all the tables are covered with table coverings and that all the chairs are ready. Weâ??re just going through the check list one more time to make sure it's ready for our guests,â?? explained Tkach.

â??It's just setting up, and everyone's pitching in, up until the last minute really,â?? said Claire McCarthy, a National Cherry Festival intern from Plymouth.

There are more than 150 events in line with the festivalâ??s theme: Generations of Fun. They take place throughout the city, not just at the Open Space and midway.

â??The Old Town car show on Sunday connects to the arts and crafts fair which drives you right back down to the Open Space. It's a hidden gem really,â?? said Tkach.

Jan Carter has been volunteering for over 15 years. You can find her at the pit spit this year.

â??Everyone gets involved; all ages,â?? said Carter. â??It's just a fun thing and it focuses on cherries believe it or not, even though it's just the pits. I'm not good. I've tried it. I'm better as a volunteer.â??

Jones has been working the entertainment stage for 34 years.

â??When I started here, our stage was four 8x8 platforms on sawhorses with no lights. When it got dark we went to the beer tent,â?? recalled Jones. â??Now weâ??re running a professional soundstage.â??

Volunteers come from all over to help with the festival.

â??It's not just people here in Traverse City. We have volunteers that come in from all over the state and sometimes out of state as well,â?? said Varga.

â??Just bringing the people in and showing them the beautiful place I live, work, and play,â?? said Betsy Fletcher of her favorite part of volunteering for eight years.

Over the years, volunteers develop friendships.

â??Once youâ??ve volunteered and gotten connected, you just don't leave. Just keep doing it over and over,â?? said Jones.

All of the fun kicks off Friday at noon. The rides and attractions will open up then on the midway.

Visitors can check out vendors and shops in the Open Space, as well as the beer tent at that time.

The National Cherry Festival officially begins Saturday morning with the Cherry Pancake Breakfast.

After everything wraps up the following Saturday, itâ??s back to planning for the festival board.

â??We tear down and clean it up and we go right back to the drawing board, trying to get ready for next year. We want to go back while things are still fresh in our minds and make sure we're preparing for an even better year in 2015,â?? said Tkach.

â??We all go back to the real world and it kind of takes us a few days to get back into it. It's really kind of a special experience,â?? said Jones.