Longtime flyers excited about 'new' kite festival

Matt DeYoung • May 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Many regulars agreed that they weren’t going to let a little thing like the end of the Great Lakes Kite Festival in 2018 keep them from flying kites at Grand Haven State Park. 

“Those of us who come here every year, we decided last year — even though they said it was the last year — we were going to come back anyhow and just fly kites,” said Roger Tompkins of Ypsilanti.

Fortunately, all those hard-core kite flyers will have a festival to attend after all. 

While the Great Lakes Kite Festival came to a close after 30 years in 2018, new organizers have taken control and will debut the Kite Festival at Grand Haven this weekend. The new group, headed by Eric Wolf and his kite-flying team, the Chicago Fire, has picked up the pieces and will host this year’s festival.

“We’re pretty excited we were able to take over the event,” said co-organizer Ann Vondriska, who has served as the voice of the festival for the past 17 years.

Vondriska will be working with Wolff, who has competed in all 30 previous Great Lakes Kite Festivals.

“This will be my 18th year, so we’re completely familiar with Lynn and Steve (Negen), and the event they’ve put on,” Vondriska said. “When they decided not to do it, we spoke with them and here we are. ... The positive feelings we’ve gotten from the towns and the flyers has been great.”

The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Vondriska said nailing down a schedule for specific events is difficult as everything is dependent on the wind. She did mention the annual candy drop will take place between 1 and 2 p.m. both days. 

“The flight order is really going to depend on wind conditions,” she said. 

As for the weather, the kites will be airborne rain or shine. The only thing that would ground them is thunder and lightning.

New to this year’s festival is an art kite field.

“We have single-line kite flyers who have created works of art in the form of kites, and there will be an art kite field to the west of the big performers kites,” Vondriska said. “Some of these creations are going to be spectacular.”

Tompkins visits several kite festivals across the country, but he says the Grand Haven event holds a special place in his heart. 

“This has been going on so long — plus the crowds, the venue, here on the shores of Lake Michigan makes it such a nice spot,” he said. “It’s the oldest in Michigan and the biggest, so that makes it special.” 

Wolff said previously that flyers are expected from Canada and throughout the Midwest, including giant inflatable kites, choreographed musical routines using two-line and four-line sport kites, and space for the public to fly kites.

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