Early blossoms for festival centennial
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.”
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.
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.