- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Thousands of people huddled under a sea of umbrellas along Constitution Avenue yesterday for the 94th annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which spectators and organizers said was a success despite unrelenting rain.

“I’ve sat through some rainy ones before, but this one is a bit unusual,” said George Smith, 43, of Southeast, who has attended the past 25 parades. “But I don’t think the rain [affected] the parade. It was just as good as it’s been in years past. I’m a die-hard fan of the parade. I even taped it on TV to see anything I may have missed.”

Organizers anticipated rain before the parade began, but expected it to clear as the day progressed. However, the downpour was steady — and occasionally heavy — throughout much of the afternoon.

“In a two-week festival. You expect weather issues,” said Diane Mayhew, executive director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “But we feel great about the parade. Overcoming little obstacles always makes success feel much greater. I think we might have had one [participant] no-show.”

The bleachers stayed relatively full until the end of the parade, which included a variety of decorated floats, a dance troupe from Tamagawa University in Tokyo, and marching bands and military and specialty units from around the country.

Aside from a sudden wind gust that threatened to blow a giant Hello Kitty helium balloon into the crowd, the weather had little effect on the parade or spectators’ spirits.

“It was a little tough to see among all the umbrellas, but other than that, I had a good time,” said Dorothy Walker, 57, who walked from her home in the District to take in the festivities. “I just love a good parade.”

Though Miss Walker lives just blocks away from the parade route, she said last year’s parade was her first.

The parade draws an average of 100,000 visitors each year and is considered by many to be the festival’s main event.

Pat Sajak of TV’s “Wheel of Fortune” served as grand marshal of the parade, which also featured performances by Grammy-nominated singer Martha Wash and “American Idol” finalist Anthony Federov.

Jennifer Berry, Miss America 2006, and 70 cherry blossom princesses representing states, territories and embassies also made appearances.

The penultimate day of the festival continued with a rugby tournament and a collegiate rowing competition.

In addition, the 45th annual Sakura Matsuri, a Japanese street festival, began at the conclusion of the parade.

The street festival — which was produced by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. — highlights traditional and contemporary culture by focusing on performing arts, martial arts, Japanese cuisine and a Japanese marketplace.

This year’s festival, which ends today, marks the 94th anniversary of the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo.

The festival expanded this year to include nearly 200 performances and smaller festivals at the Tidal Basin and in neighborhoods where the trees have been planted in recent years.

Today’s events include a tree planting and cookout at Triangle Park.

The parade was not the only event held yesterday in the cold rain.

The Martin Luther King Day Parade was held along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, and an estimated 120 young adults embarked on the traditional “Seven Church Walk.”

Participants traveled by seven Catholic churches in the District yesterday, the day before Palm Sunday. At each stop, they participated in a different type of prayer, such as the rosary, a meditation or Eucharistic adoration. The event began with Mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church at 10th and G streets Northwest.

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