- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

The famed pink and white cherry blossoms that surround most of the District’s historic landmarks should peak the second week of April, just as the annual festival that honors them comes to a close.

Rob DeFeo, chief horticulturist with the National Park Service, said the blossoms are expected to peak anytime between April 4 and 9. The National Cherry Blossom Festival this year begins March 26 and ends April 10.

“You will definitely have the peak of the blossoms during the festival,” Mr. DeFeo said. These cherry trees have bloomed every year. … They’re the most reliable species in Washington.”

Mr. DeFeo said the blossoms bloomed for 13 of the past 15 Cherry Blossom festivals. The veteran horticulturist who donned a cherry blossom tie said he walked by a cherry tree yesterday and said to himself “they’re not doing anything.”

“If we had 90 degree temperatures for nine days — [the temperatures] would force them out,” he said.

Despite blustery winds and frigid temperatures, about 100 festival organizers, goodwill ambassadors and D.C. officials gathered at the Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Southwest yesterday to hear Mr. DeFeo’s prediction and to announce the key events of the annual festival.

William A. Hanbury, president of the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corporation, joked with the group that he was an amateur weatherman. “I’m predicting great weather,” he said.

Mr. Hanbury said last year proved to be a good year for tourism in the District, with hotel occupancy levels reaching those attained pre-September 11, 2001. He said this year started out as a blockbuster, with events such as the presidential inauguration helping attract visitors to the city.

“After some high-profile winter events, we’re going to a high-profile spring event and welcome 1 million people,” Mr. Hanbury said. “I tell people that New York always owns the Christmas season, but D.C. owns spring.”

Organizers said the two-week festival promises to be chock full of events for the entire family. They said there will be more than 95 events and exhibits featuring more than 150 cultural performances.

“It’s such a pleasure to work with this organization,” said Diana Mayhew, the executive director of the festival. “I don’t think you realize the stress and humor that we go through. We are ready for blossoms. … There’s something for everyone in the family.”

The National Cherry Blossom Parade is scheduled for April 9 and will take place on Constitution Avenue, between Seventh and 17th streets NW. Organizers said Mickey Mouse is expected to lead the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade as this year’s grand marshal.

Secretary of the District of Columbia Sherryl Hobbs Newman represented the mayor’s office during the hourlong cherry blossom festivities announcement. Mrs. Hobbs Newman said the festival celebrates the gift of the trees from Japan.

“This celebration emphasizes the value of the cultural differences here in our city and across the world,” she said.”

Mrs. Hobbs Newman said the festival this year will extend into the city’s eight wards. She said at least one community in each ward will receive three cherry trees that will be planted in the neighborhood.

Mrs. Mayhew said she loves tree plantings and enjoys the thought of extending the trees’ beauty into all four quadrants of the city.

“Since the festival represents a gift of the trees, we wanted to keep giving and that the first step be relevant to the District of Columbia and its residents,” Mrs. Mayhew said. “We want to continue our efforts to extend the festival beyond the Tidal Basin into District neighborhoods and the tree plantings are my favorite part.”

More than 40 Yoshino and Okame trees will be planted across the city with the support of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Mayhew said.

This year’s festival commemorates the 93rd anniversary of the 1912 gift to the city of Washington of the 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to enhance the growing friendship between Japan and the United States. Most of the nearly 3,700 trees lining the Tidal Basin today are descendants of those presented to the United States by Japan.

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