- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Thousands of visitors arrived in the District yesterday for the National Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the city’s unofficial start of spring and Japan’s 94-year-old gift to the District.

The two-week celebration began at the National Building Museum for the first time to accommodate burgeoning crowds for the opening-day ceremony. Festivities included the traditional Smithsonian Kite Festival on the Mall, origami workshops, a kimono fashion show and traditional and modern Japanese dance.

“This fabulous opening to the festival is only the beginning, and this year is going to be bigger and better than ever,” said Sue Porter, festival board president and director of tourism for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Danielle Springer, of the District, and friend Alberto Zanella, were among the thousands who flocked to the Mall and around the Potomac River Tidal Basin to see the main attraction, but they were left wondering where the blossoming trees were.

“We went to the kite festival, which was good,” said Mr. Zanella, who is in town from Italy, “but the cherry blossoms have not been easy to find. I found information about the blossoms on the Web, but on the Mall, there isn’t anybody around you can ask that can tell you where the cherry blossoms are.”

National Park Service officials said the blossoms should peak from tomorrow until April 1. The festival continues through April 9.

On 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.

“My wife and I are both into [Japanese] culture,” said Jason Smith, 28, of Woodbridge, who toured the museum with wife Caitlyn and their 21-month-old son, Julian. Although they live close to the District, this was the first year Mr. Smith has attended the festival.

“I enjoyed making the [miniature] Japanese garden, making origami and watching the traditional dancing,” he said. “Plus, we don’t get many opportunities to get out as family. We’ve had a good time.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday called the festival an “incredible economic engine” for the District.

“In our economy now, it’s hard to find an event you can afford to take your whole family to,” said Mr. Williams, who presided over his eighth and final festival as mayor. He is not seeking re-election this year.

“All too readily, [people] around the world are destroying the natural environment on which our future rests,” Mr. Williams said. “Here is a festival that is centered upon trees. It’s an important symbol to emanate from a place like Washington, D.C.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said the trees make the District “the most beautiful city in the world, at least for two weeks.”

“This [event] is too glorious and beautiful to contain to the Mall alone,” she said. “We depend upon the blossoms in so many ways — to bring us the joy that may not be there during the winter. Even if the weather was warm day after day, nobody in this town would believe spring is here unless the blossoms had come out.”

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