By Randee Dawn
Back in 1912, the national capital received a unique and special gift of over 3,000 cherry blossom tree saplings. Planted around the Washington, D.C. tidal basin, they light up every spring with silky pink-and-white petals and drawn over 1.5 million visitors every year. Ever since 1927, the city has bloomed with an exciting festival designed to celebrate the coming of spring, our country’s relationship with Japan, and – of course – the trees!
But if you’re planning on getting down seeing this year’s blooms and participating in the citywide festival, it’s time to get organized: Snow forecasts aside, the trees are heading toward peak bloom and the party’s just getting started!
What’s on tap?
From mid-March to mid-April the Tidal Basin will be alive with live music events, family days, a kite festival, a Japanese street festival and fireworks. Specific event information can be found at the festival web page. In addition, this is the 50th year of the kite festival (on April 2). “It’s a way to welcome springtime to the city, and people love to look at the blossoms every year,” says festival spokesperson Nora Strumpf.
What’s the history?
The first cherry blossom festival was held in 1927, and expanded into a two-week event in 1994; now it’s a four-weekend celebration. There are only approximately 100 of the original blossom trees still standing around the basin, but they’ve been supplemented with thousands more, so there’s now approximately 4,000 trees pinking up the area.
Where’s the best place to see the trees?
The Tidal Basin is a reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel just south of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and slightly east of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the closest Metro stop is Smithsonian on the Blue/Orange/Silver lines. Cars are not recommended, as parking is notoriously tough in downtown.
When’s the best time to come?
The official festival dates are between March 20 and April 17, and the National Park Service is in charge of reporting peak bloom times (that’s when 70 percent of the blossoms are in bloom). The most recent revision put peak bloom around March 23 or 24, so any time around then or just after is the best you’ll see this year. Here’s the 2016 bloom watch page to look for updates and there’s a Cherry Blossom Cam located here. But if you want to wait for the parade, that’s on April 16, and will feature cast members of “Jersey Boys,” Tiffany and Miss America.
Where should I stay?
The national capital has any number of places to stay, but the festival has teamed up with over 20 hotels that include discounted rates and package deals. You can find those here . You can also call 877-44-BLOOM (877-442-5666).
One big no-no: Don’t pick the blossoms!
It may seem that with 3,000 trees they could spare a branch or two but really – don’t pick any for yourself. ” There are actual ways to fine you if you try to take a branch, but what’s most likely to happen, he says, is that a junior ranger will come over and tell you not to do that. “We try to engage in a teachable moment,” says NPS representative Mike Litterst. “It’s the age-old notion that one person can’t do much damage, but when you consider how many people we’ll see around the Tidal Basin when the blossoms are out, if every one of those people took a branch our gift would be gone in short order.
For more information, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Photo Credit: National Cherry Blossom Festival