- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

D.C. officials are preparing for the 2006 National Cherry Blossom Festival, an event expected to bring more than 1 million visitors to the city and pump millions of dollars into the region’s economy.

“It’s been bigger and bigger every year,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday of the two-week event marking the start of the District’s peak tourism season.

This year’s festival runs March 25 to April 9.

Although the 3,000 flowering cherry trees planted around the Potomac River Tidal Basin remain the central attractions, annual tree plantings in the city’s eight wards have spawned other events, including the Anacostia Cherry Blossom Festival in a working-class neighborhood east of downtown.

“We are presenting over 200 performances and demonstrations throughout the two weeks,” said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the festival.

Corporate sponsorship and year-round promotional efforts on the organization’s Web site (www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org) have generated widespread interest in the program, Miss Mayhew said.

The festival commemorates the March 27, 1912, planting of the first two cherry trees by first lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador.

A few of the original 3,020 trees donated to Washington on behalf of the Japanese capital of Tokyo remain. Others were cultured from cuttings taken from the original trees.

“New York owns Christmas and shopping, and we own the spring and cherry blossoms,” said William A. Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp.

According to agency research, 36 percent of the people who attend the festival are visitors from beyond the Washington region.

“Those 360,000 visitors will spend on average $370 each,” Mr. Hanbury said.

That represents a total economic effect of $133 million. About 800,000 trips on the region’s Metrorail system are directly attributable to the festival. Hotel occupancy during the festival averages 84 percent, or 12 percent above seasonal levels.

Weather determines the peak blooming period for the cherry blossoms. Nighttime temperatures near or below freezing have allowed most trees to remain dormant during the region’s mild winter.

The chief horticulturist for the National Park Service is expected to offer a prediction on the peak blooming period during a press conference next Thursday, Miss Mayhew said.

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