Early blos­soms for fes­ti­val cen­ten­nial

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY CHRISTY ARMSTRONG

Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers pre­dicted Thurs­day that the peak pe­riod for the blooms this year will be March 24 through 31, a few days ear­lier than in re­cent years be­cause of mild win­ter tem­per­a­tures.

This year’s fes­ti­val is sched­uled to be­gin March 20 — the first day of spring — and will mark the cen­ten­nial of the Dis­trict’s re­ceiv­ing 3,000 trees as a gift from Ja­pan. The fes­ti­val, which is five weeks long this year in honor of the cen­ten­nial, runs through April 27.

The pre­dic­tion of the peak bloom pe­riod — when 70 per­cent of the blos­soms are bloom­ing at once — is not def­i­nite. But Na­tional Park Ser­vice chief hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Robert De­feo said at a news con­fer­ence at the New­seum in North­west Washington that his fore­cast has proved cor­rect in 16 of the past 20 years.

“I as­sure you, you’re not go­ing to see a late bloom,” he said. The flow­ers gen­er­ally last be­tween four and 10 days, de­pend­ing on the weather. The av­er­age peak bloom date is April 4.

Bob Vo­gel, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Na­tional Mall and Me­mo­rial Parks, said staff has been “work­ing all year to pre­pare for the cherry blos­som fes­ti­val.”

Events this year in­clude the open­ing cer­e­mony, with per­form-

an­ces by singer Sara Bareilles and Ja­panese artists Misia and Hideki Togi on March 25 and the fes­ti­val pa­rade on April 14, along with other Ja­panese cul­tural events, art ex­hi­bi­tions and per­for­mances.

His­tor­i­cally, a ma­jor part of the Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val has been the em­pha­sis on the trees, which sym­bol­ize the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States and Ja­pan. About 100 of the orig­i­nal 3,000 trees re­main.

“They are a sym­bol of friend­ship,” said John Malott, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Ja­pan-amer­ica So­ci­ety of Washington. “We would like to com­mit our­selves to deepen the bond of friend­ship over the next 100 years.”

Last year’s fes­ti­val was over­shad­owed by the earth­quake and tsunami that had hit Ja­pan in March, prompt­ing fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers to in­clude a can­dle­light vigil and an event called Stand With Ja­pan.

“Our pray­ers con­tinue to be with the peo­ple of Ja­pan this year,” said D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray.

With the fes­ti­val bring­ing large num­bers of tourists to the city an­nu­ally, the Dis­trict is ex­pect­ing to see big eco­nomic im­pacts again this year, Mr. Gray said.

“Last year’s fes­ti­val gen­er­ated $126 mil­lion,” Mr. Gray said. “It’s an in­te­gral part of our cul­ture and econ­omy.”

Res­i­dents also have ac­knowl­edged the role of the fes­ti­val in bring­ing vis­i­tors to the area.

“We’re lucky to live here, and I’m glad peo­ple can come down and en­joy it,” Ar­ling­ton res­i­dent Shireen Dodoni said. “That’s the in­tent of the fes­ti­val, I think — to have peo­ple visit.”

Mr. Gray also thanked or­ga­niz­ers and more than 1,000 vol­un­teers in­volved each year in the ef­fort that goes into plan­ning the fes­ti­val.

“This is a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing to do this ev­ery year,” Mr. Gray said. “It’s not sim­ply an in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val but a source of great pride.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY T.J. KIRK­PATRICK/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Blos­som buds are form­ing on the Ja­panese cherry trees along the Ti­dal Basin, and peak bloom is fore­cast for the last week of March. Good­will am­bas­sadors gather (above) for a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day on plans for this year’s Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val, a cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion to be­gin March 20 and run five weeks.

T.J. KIRK­PATRICK/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the New­seum to dis­cuss plans for this year’s Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val.

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