Washington ready for start of National Cherry Blossom Festival

The National Park Service, with the help of "Paddles the Beaver," prepares for the upcoming cherry blossom festival and the increase in visitors to the area.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

The snow is long gone. So is the high water that followed. And with the cherry blossoms about to open, Washington is poised for Saturday's start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, marking the 98th anniversary of the arrival of the trees from Japan .

On Thursday, the National Park Service hosted a festival preview on the shore of the Tidal Basin, where officials said that despite an overall drop in tourism to Washington, the two-week festival still is the biggest recurring tourism event for the city and the National Park Service.

The festival, centered among the basin's Japanese cherry trees, runs through April 11. The peak bloom is expected to be April 1 through April 4, with the blooming period from March 28 through April 9.

The preview came as the Trust for the National Mall, the Park Service's official nonprofit partner for improving the Mall, announced that it would take over fundraising for maintenance of the cherry trees from the National Park Foundation.

The trust's supervision of the Cherry Tree Endowment Fund marks an increased effort to raise money for the trees and to educate visitors about the need for tree maintenance, the organization said.

"The cherry trees are centrally located on the Mall, and there is a need for additional funding to upkeep and maintain these national treasures," a trust spokeswoman said. "The National Park Foundation and the Trust mutually agreed it made good sense to streamline the fundraising efforts and move the responsibility over to the Trust."

Meanwhile, officials of the Park Service, U.S. Park Police and the blossom festival were on hand Thursday to welcome visitors to the festival's various walks, talks, and other events. They were joined by the great-grandson of first lady Helen H. Taft, who planted the first tree.

Festival details are at nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.

"It's just amazing to see the transformation from the snows this year to spring awakening and the blossoms coming out," said John Piltzecker, superintendent of the Park Service's National Mall and Memorial Parks. "This is the time everyone comes out. . . . This is the time. Come out from winter. Come down to the Tidal basin, or out to Hains Point, and enjoy Washington D.C."

-- Michael E. Ruane

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