- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flying a kite at the Blossom Kite Festival on the Mall would have gotten you arrested in 1970, but it’s perfectly legal now.

This celebrated tradition, which has been rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday due to rain, is the modern picture of a family-friendly event. It was quite a different story in April 1970.

“At one point it was illegal to fly a kite on the National Mall. It scared the horses or something,” said Jon Burkhardt, treasurer of the Maryland Kite Society.

An 1892 law barred the flying of kites, balloons and parachutes within the city limits. Violators incurred a $10 fine.

But on April 18, 1970, police arrested 11 people who were protesting the law by flying kites near the Washington Monument. When kite enthusiasts were not allowed to have the kite carnival that year in the District, they moved the event to Fort Washington in Prince George’s County.

Thanks to their efforts in changing the law, amateurs, masters and spectators now peacefully flock to the Mall with their kites.

“The festival is sponsored by the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is wonderful. What it’s like now is more of a family event. There are different kinds of activities going on — more activities for children,” Mr. Burkhardt said.

“When the festival began, it was more of a competition for kite makers. There were years when we had long, long lines of people wanting to show their kites, fly their kites, and be judged,” he said. “The kite competition is still one of the key events, but its far from the only event.”

A highlight of the festival is the Adult Kite Makers Competition, in which registered competitors showcase their kites in the air.

“The kites are judged by flight and beauty in the air. And if those factors are really closely tied, we’ll judge them on the ground by craftsmanship and structural design,” Mr. Burkhardt said. “We see some really good kites.”

Five judges choose a grand prize winner who is awarded with two economy-class, round-trip tickets on Turkish Airlines, a sponsor of the festival.

The kite makers event isn’t the only show for spectators. The festival kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Sunday with a “Kite Ballet,” in which a group of kites perform aerial routines to music.

“It’s really quite lovely,” Mr. Burkhardt said.

In addition, at 3 p.m. there’s the Rokkaku Battle — a part of the festival for 10 years. These six-sided Japanese fighting kites fly together with the objective of being the last one in the air. Kitefliers use cutthroat (or cut-string) tactics to bring other kites down, without actually fighting the other fliers.

Mr. Burkhardt said that tackling and shaving cream attacks will not be allowed.

“One of the rules is that the kites fight, and the people don’t,” he said.

After the battle, the festival will return to its peaceful celebration with the Rokkaku Puzzle. This new festival addition features a display of seven kites that reveal a unified design when they link themselves together in the air.

“It’s a the face of an eagle, and it has some stars and stripes. It’s a very patriotic representation,” Mr. Burkhardt said.

Each of the seven kites were made by different people at a Maryland Kite Society event. Completing the puzzle is a complicated feat, especially since the kite society members don’t practice beforehand. They just wing it.

“This is a hoot. It’s lots of fun and lots of laughter,” Mr. Burkhardt said.

An entire “Family Field” is dedicated to younger fliers who want to make their own kites and compete. Children can learn about kites in the activity tents, and even repair their kites if they compete a little too fiercely.

Tens of thousands usually attend the festival, according to Danielle Davis, communications manager of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

“We have a lot of participants from kite clubs in the area. We have master kite makers who come and do demonstrations,” she said. “It’s an active and energetic day. People can bring their own kites and fly on the public field. There are five areas to explore. Its very family friendly and fun, and there’s lots to look at.”

Mr. Burkhardt said that the colors on the kites make the event a “photographer’s extravaganza.”

“Whatever level of kite flying you want to participate in, we have it,” Ms. Davis said.

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