- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

A mild winter on the heels of the wettest year in recent memory could make this a great season for the pink and white cherry blossoms that draw hundreds of thousands to the District each spring.

“The peak blooming period will be from March 24 to April 2,” National Park Service spokesman Bill Line said yesterday. The projected bloom indicates that there should be plenty of blossoms visible during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Park Service defines the peak bloom as that period when 70 percent of the blossoms are visible. There are 2,730 Yoshino trees among the 3,700 flowering cherries that line the Potomac Tidal Basin.

During a 16-day period from March 27 to April 11, the Washington area will host a wide variety of cultural, athletic and recreational events designated as officially connected to the annual festival.

“There should be plenty of blossoms remaining on the trees Saturday, April 3, for the festival parade,” Mr. Line said.

The trees are mostly descendants of those presented to the United States by Japan in 1912 to mark 60 years of friendly relations. About 150 remain from the original stock, and the Park Service is propagating cuttings to maintain the historic connection.

U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry signed the Treaty of Kanagawa establishing friendship and peace with Japan on March 31, 1854. Many of this year’s festival events commemorate that relationship.

“We have good weather, the economy is with us, the threat level is diminished, and we are going to have a great 2004,” said Bill Hanbury, president of Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation.

The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival traditionally has marked the beginning of the tourism season for the Washington region. Mr. Hanbury sees this year’s festival as the run-up to the May 27-30 opening weekend of the National World War II Memorial and September’s grand opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“If all goes well, this could be the best tourism year we’ve ever had in the nation’s capital,” Mr. Hanbury said.

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