Door County cherry drop to mark new year
A taste of Times Square revelry is coming to Sister Bay to ring in the New Year.
The taste, figuratively speaking, will be the tart or sweet flavor of the ruby-red orchard fruit that helps shape the Door County mystique.
An hour after the Big Apple lowers its world-famous sparkling ball during the New Year's Eve countdown in the Eastern time zone, the tiny tourist town in Northern Door will follow suit with a big cherry as midnight approaches Sunday.
"I now know more about cherry construction than anyone should ever think about," said marketing specialist Jaime Forest at radio station WLGE (The Lodge, 106.7 FM), sponsor of the village's inaugural New Year's Eve Cherry Drop.
The local stand-in for Times Square will be the downtown corner of State 57 and Mill Road. There, if all goes according to plan, the six-foot aluminum cherry, glowing red with about 5,000 strung LED lights, will descend from a 100-foot crane arm while the crowd calls out the final 10 seconds of 2017.
Forest said the cherry will also display "2018" in bright lights, but the mechanics of getting that done were still a work in progress late last week.
"This first year, our goal is that the crane runs, the cherry gets lit and nobody gets hurt," she joked. "And one way or another, we will have a number (the year) on there."
The debut of the Cherry Drop means Sister Bay's traditional New Year's festivities, including fireworks, moves to the downtown waterfront from the village ice rink/sports complex on its western edge.
The new event has been eagerly embraced by Husby's Food & Spirits and Sister Bay Bowl, restaurant/bars doing business across the street from each other at the intersection that will be the cherry's landing pad.
The upcoming extravaganza is modeled after a nine-year-old cherry ball drop in Traverse City, Michigan, another bountiful orchard region directly across Lake Michigan; and a "pinecone drop" in Flagstaff, Arizora, a tribute to that area's thick and rich forests.
The Traverse City gala draws more than 10,000 people annually and the western spectacle a rowdy 30,000 or so in the college town that is home to Northern Arizona University.
"There are no original ideas in radio; you always steal them," said Mike Mesic, owner of The Lodge and its parent Door County Radio Group. "I have a friend at iHeart(Radio) in Tucson (Ariz.) who said if you steal something from us, it means you've stolen it twice."
Traverse City dubs its event "CherryT" to raise money for local charities through either a $3 admission or canned-food donation.
Mesic said the Cherry Drop has similarly partnered with Door County Secret Santa, which provides winter heating help to needy local families. Volunteers will work the crowd Sunday night to collect donations or sell glowsticks, with all of the money going to Secret Santa.
"We're not making anything off this," Forest said. "Maybe next year we'll try to get additional sponsors to cover the expenses, like renting the crane. But once we got this going it was too late (to round those up) for this year."
Mesic said the New Year's promotional idea has been in his head for a few years. He wanted to launch it in time for the station's 10th anniversary in 2018.
The Lodge staff knocked around ideas including lowering the cherry off the Fairfield Building in downtown Sturgeon Bay, the On Deck Clothing clock tower in Sister Bay or a simple flagpole.
At one point, a luminous artificial goat was talked about as the possible featured attraction, a tribute to the small, live herd that grazes in the summers atop the grass roof at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay.
"But when we got talking to Husby's and The Bowl (taverns), they said let's make it up bigger than it would otherwise appear (by putting it higher in the sky)," Forest said. "It just took on a life of its own. Then we all looked at each other and said, 'Who's going to build this thing?' I said, 'I know a guy.'"
Namely, her mechanically and electrically inclined brother Corey Corbisier of Brussels. He's working with an artist friend who does welded metal sculptures to fabricate the oversized cherry in his garage. Lodge volunteers also lend a hand.
The cherry "cage" framework consists of rows of aluminum strips to which the lights are fastened with cable ties, Forest said. The Door County cherry is about half as tall as the 12-foot Traverse City version.
"We needed to be able to get it out of the garage door," she said.
As her gang gains experience in this thoroughly non-mainstream art form, they hope to grow as specialized and technologically advanced as the Traverse City folks.
Forest said the Michigan festival started by lighting a clear-plastic Zorb orb, the over-sized hamster balls for humans used for exercise or playtime. But Traverse City has since graduated to "Cherry 3.0," she said.
The latest, made-of-metal design is not only pumped up in size but strobe-lit internally like a disco ball, a dizzying, dazzling display of quick-cut blinks and flashes. The cherry is topped with a green-leafed "stem" while a Plexiglas panel shows the old year, in white lights, giving way to the new.
Traverse City uses a pulley to lower the contraption, and when the countdown reaches zero the crowd is showered with confetti from a toy cannon. Forest said she hopes for a similar mind-blowing finale in Sister Bay someday, perhaps by saving a few fireworks from earlier in the evening for the big midnight moment.