The colors on northern Michigan's abundant treescapes are reaching their peak this week – and so is the fall tourism season.
From 2006 to 2012, autumn traffic to Traverse City has grown more than 24 percent, generating an estimated $264 million in direct spending to the local economy last year alone, according to Brad Van Dommelen, president & CEO of Traverse City Tourism. So where exactly are those visitors – and dollars – heading?
Fall on the Farm
For visitors and locals alike, perhaps nothing embodies a Traverse City autumn like a farm brimming with pumpkins, apples and fresh-pressed cider. Judy and Denny Hoxsie, who took over the family business at Hoxsie's Farm Market in Williamsburg in 2000, operate a 12-acre apple orchard on the property (open for daily tours through the end of October).
A review of the farm's numbers reveal just how popular the fall destination is. “Each spring, we plant over 20,000 pumpkin, gourd and squash plants from 85 varieties...and every fall we sell more than 30 tons of pumpkins,” says Judy. “We grow and sell over 5,000 half-pecks of apples, we hand-dip and sell 1,200 caramel apples, and we sell over 1,000 gallons of fresh cider,” she continues, also noting Hoxsie's on-site bakery sells an estimated 700 dozen pumpkin donuts and 1,000 dozen plain donuts each season.
In a year when apple production in the Midwest is up 472 percent over 2012's failed crop, the fruit is a common attraction at many area farms, including Rennie Orchards, Gallagher's Farm Market, Amon Orchards and Friske Orchards. But at Jacob's Corn Maze on M-72 West, apples take a backseat to the farm's 10 acres of field corn, which are cut into an intricate new maze design each year.
“We have about 7-8,000 visitors come through the maze annually,” says co-owner Steve Fouch, who also offers one of the area's most unique uses for apples: ammunition for a professional slingshot that shoots up to 200 yards, which sports fans can aim at targets dressed as Michigan State University or University of Michigan quarterbacks.
Fab Fall Special
In 2007, Traverse City Tourism (then the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau) began offering a “Fab Fall Special,” a combined lodging and discount package offering savings at area hotels, restaurants and retail shops. The program has exploded in popularity since its inception; the organization distributed more than 1,500 of the discount books in 2012, and has seen close to 1,000 snapped up already this season.
“We created the program to build visitor volume in the shoulder and off-season months...and enhance the economic vitality of our community,” says Van Dommelen.
Fall Color Tours
For many travelers, no fall visit is complete without a color tour, for which this and next week are ideal viewing times. Traverse City Tourism has compiled a map of recommended driving loops for color-gazers, including Old Mission Peninsula, Leelanau Peninsula, Elk Lake/Torch Lake/Rapid River, and Long Lake/Interlochen/Boardman Valley.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which had been closed since October 1 due to the government shutdown, also just reopened this week. Up to 2,300 visitors a day visit the national park during the autumn months.
"This season has become a very popular time to enjoy Traverse City,” says Van Dommelen. “Many people think of Traverse City as a 'beach town.' But we wanted to educate them about the great time they can have here in the fall (as well).”