- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Hotel and tourism officials in the District are banking on flowery white trees to give a much needed boost to the city's drooping tourism industry.
The highly anticipated blossoming of the city's most spectacular symbol of spring, the Japanese cherry trees, is less than a month away, the National Park Service said yesterday.
This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled for March 23 through April 8, marks the 90th anniversary of the flowery trees being planted in Washington.
"We're 100 percent confident the trees will be in peak bloom between the first and fifth days of April," said Robert DeFeo, the park service's chief horticulturist.
A smattering of the Japanese trees, whose knotted limbs wind away from their trunks like strong fingers of an aged hand, can be found just southwest of the Washington Monument on the National Mall.
But the pink and white-petaled limbs are most famous and perhaps most cherished for the surreal atmosphere they create lining the Tidal Basin near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and East Potomac Park.
Mr. DeFeo, who has accurately predicted the peak bloom period of the more than 3,700 trees for seven of the past 10 years, added that "for 90 years straight, these trees have bloomed through the coldest winters, the warmest winters and world wars."
The various cultural and sporting events that make up the festival have drawn more than 700,000 annual visitors during past years. Tourism officials, hoping for a major comeback in the industry this summer, expect the same numbers next month.
"We've all weathered some pretty difficult months since September 11," said Bill Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation. "Tourism is an $11 billion industry and the No. 1 private industry in this region.
"Everyone's looking forward to this festival. It is the first chance to see that American families are back on the road traveling," he said, adding that cherry blossoms symbolize freedom and democracy.
The cherry trees were presented to the nation's capital as a gift in 1912 from the mayor of Tokyo on behalf of the Japanese government. Mr. DeFeo said about 112 trees from the original donation still are standing in the District.
Hiroshi Nawata, the second secretary and cultural attache of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said he is impressed that the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been organized and promoted entirely by local people.
"This festival provides an opportunity for people in this area and from around the nation to build an awareness of Japanese culture," he said. "It's one of the best cherry blossom festivals in the world."
This festival will include free cultural performances on a stage at the Jefferson Memorial and a host of historical, educational and sporting activities, including the 31st annual Cherry Blossom Open Fencing Tournament to be held April 7 in Silver Spring.
The marquee event is the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 6, which draws an average of 100,000 visitors along its course on Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets NW.
"This is the signature tourist event we all know in Washington," said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, speaking at his weekly press briefing on Feb. 27. "It's never been as important an event as it is this year."
For information about festival events and times, contact the parade hot line at 202/547-1500, or visit the Web site at www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.


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