By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009 3:30 PM
Despite the gloomy economic outlook, officials said this morning that the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival might not be badly affected by the recession.
At the National Park Service's festival preview news conference, the festival's president, Diana Mayhew, said the economic situation might even be a boost to the 16-day event, which starts Saturday and runs through April 12.
"I think the economic situation is probably going to enhance the attendance," she said. "Our Web site hits are up about 30 percent. . . . We're almost sold out for the parade." The bleacher seats for the April 4 parade are $17 apiece. There are between 8,500 and 9,000 such seats.
Speaking after the news conference, in cold, drizzly weather by the edge of the Tidal Basin, Mayhew said she believed that people know most of the festival is free and features quality family entertainment. "If you're not going away for spring break, because it may be a little bit more than your budget, you'll come downtown, right in your own back yard," she said.
She said the festival also is still seeing strong interest from tour groups. "I don't think anything keeps people away from the cherry blossoms, and the Cherry Blossom Festival," she said. "It is such an uplifting event. It's spring. People are looking for a reason to be outside."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who also was present, agreed.
"People want to do things that are not expensive, and that are fun," he said. "This is free. People do have to spend money coming from other parts of the country. But at the end of the day, you can still get some great deals. And I think heritage and natural resources tourism is very much a keystone part of our economy and our economic recovery."
"I also think because it's springtime, it's a symbolic thing, a new page is being turned, a new beginning," he said.
As he spoke, nearby cherry trees were in the final stage of coming into bloom, the Park Service announced. "We're about four to six days from seeing the blooms in all their glory," said Stephanie Toothman, acting superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
The Park Service urged festival goers to take advantage of the free shuttle bus tours of Hains Point, an off-the-beaten-path area that is less crowded than the Tidal Basin and also has numerous blossoming cherry trees. The shuttle leaves from the Jefferson Memorial. More festival details can be found at http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.