BY ANNE STANTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Organizers are toasting not only a strong attendance of nearly 17,000 revelers at the CherryT Ball Drop, but also a calmer, better-mannered crowd.
"I give big kudos to the organizers," said Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner. "It was 100 percent better than last year."
Twenty-four uniformed officers patrolled the festivities and didn't make a single arrest, Heffner said.
CherryT cofounder Christal Wilcox Frost said there wasn't as much compression, pushing or shoving as in prior years. Frost credited the colder weather, in part, for the sense of calm. Diehard revelers showed up at about 9 p.m., but it wasn't until 11 p.m. when the sea of people began to pour into city streets. Last year, New Year's Eve revelers arrived a couple of hours earlier, Frost said.
"There weren't so many people for so long. It was warmer last year, and the year before it was almost 60 degrees," she said.
Heffner used a crowd estimator to calculate a total of about 16,900 people 10 minutes before midnight. That compares to last year's unscientific estimate that ranged from 8,000 to 15,000, said Tonja Wildfong, a CherryT committee member.
"My gut and eyeball observations tell me it was either the same or slightly down," she said.
Organizers avoided the mass exodus of years past by continuing with the music and fireworks until 12:20 a.m. instead of right after the cherry ball dropped.
Some revelers left immediately, another group left soon after the fireworks and music wrapped for the night, and a third group remained on the streets to chat with friends. CherryT organizers also coordinated their schedules with other venues, such as the State Theatre, Wildfong said.
Frost believes things also went well because barricaded, police-only corridors allowed officers to easily move through the streets.
Wildfong said planning and practice made all the difference.
"We're really concerned about safety, which is why we hire so many police officials. The crowd was very peaceful," she said.
Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Lt. Bryan Marrow said the sense of calm and good behavior extended throughout the county on New Year's Eve through New Year's Day. There were only four arrests, including two drunken driving arrests and one assault and battery from New Year's Eve night to New Year's Day. City police reported two incidents of minors attempting to purchase alcohol on New Year's Eve.
"It was kind of surprising. Sometimes we stack them up, drunk driving wise," Marrow said.
Frost said the crowd enjoyed the cheerleaders, the music, and the tributes to the fire department, the U.S. Coast Guard, and to a soldier who is shipping out this week.
"What's special about the CherryT is that it's put on by local people who want to highlight why we live here year-round," Frost said. "We're a generous community and we love where we live."
Admission was free, but revelers were asked to make a donation to charity.
Wildfong said $7,800 in cash and $2,000 worth of canned food were donated this year to Goodwill Industries and the Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center. That's down $2,000 from last year's $12,000 total donation of food and cash. Wildfong thought the cold weather might have affected contributions since people showed up later.
The CherryT staff works for free, and all money raised at the event goes to charity.
Donors provide in-kind donations and money to put on the event — such as paying police and sheriff's officials — throughout the year, Frost said.
"We all work for free. Nobody gets paid, and that's an interesting thing for people to remember," Frost said.