Cherry Blossom parade was prepared to alter route

“Fantastic!”

Eric Willoughby, director of the marching band from Woodland High School in Cartersville, Ga., was palpably relieved when told Friday that the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade was on. His is one of more than a dozen marching bands from across the country scheduled to participate in the event.

“I know my kids will be excited,” he said. “They’ve kind of been on pins and needles.”

The 150 band members and their chaperones traveled to Washington from Cartersville, outside Atlanta, on Wednesday. But the group became worried Thursday when it learned that a government shutdown could bring the parade to a halt.

Then, staving off a federal shutdown at the eleventh hour, lawmakers announced a budget deal for the next five months shortly before midnight Friday.

Now, Willoughby said, his students, who will play an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” in the parade, “will be ecstatic.”

The parade is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday at the intersection of Seventh Street NW and Constitution Avenue. It was to happen regardless of whether the federal government shut down, festival officials announced Friday.

After being told that a shutdown would force cancellation of the parade, organizers scrambled Thursday and Friday to adjust the parade route away from federal land. The tradition draws 100,000 spectators and thousands of participants a year, officials have said.

After 48 hours of work, the festival officials announced that its efforts had been successful.

“The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will go on regardless of a potential government shutdown,” festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente said in an e-mail. “If there is a government shutdown, the parade route will be altered.”

The problem had been that the parade’s route and disassembly area on Constitution Avenue NW, roughly Seventh Street to 21st Street, covers several blocks of the avenue that are governed by the National Park Service. Park service officials told the festival that if there were a shutdown, they could not honor the parade permits.

But the stretch of Constitution between Seventh and 14th streets is not park service turf, officials said, so the festival planners worked with the Metropolitan Police Department and the District to move the parade to that stretch only.

With the stress of a government shutdown avoided, the parade will revert to its original, longer route.

“We didn’t want to disappoint the people who attend the parade and participate in the parade,” Diana Mayhew, the festival’s president, said Friday.

The Japanese street festival Sakura Matsuri, at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, also will go on as scheduled, she said.

She praised the District government and the police department for helping save the parade.

“I’m just so proud of the people that have the dedication and determination to not let this fold,” she said.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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