- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Heralded by booming Taiko drums, one of the most anticipated announcements of spring in the nation’s capital came yesterday: the prediction of when the famous cherry trees’ blossoms will be at their peak.

It fell right where National Cherry Blossom Festival organizers want it to — in the middle of the two-week celebration that has gained increasing national and international attention.

“Barring an ice age,” said National Park Service horticulturist Robert DeFeo, the blossoms should be at their peak between March 27 and April 1 for the festival, which begins March 25 and runs through April 9.

More entertainment, plus improved public information and transportation, will help “paint our town pink,” said Sue Porter, festival president.

A parade, fireworks, a Japanese cultural festival and other events will mark the celebration, promising a distinct international flavor for an event that’s “bigger and better than ever,” she said.

The festival is “known throughout the U.S. and many other countries around the world as a unique celebration of nature’s gifts and the sharing of culture,” Miss Porter said. She added that an ever-increasing number of major corporate sponsors is turning the festival into a national celebration.

This year, the festival has been expanded to include nearly 200 performances and festivals within festivals, not only at the well-known Potomac River Tidal Basin, where much of the public sees the blossoms, but also in D.C. neighborhoods, where more cherry trees have been planted in recent years.

Additional plantings are be part of this year’s celebration.

“There’s something here for everyone, truly,” said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “The community really gets together for a few weeks of the year to help paint the city pink for two weeks.”

Miss Mayhew even has taken phone calls about the event from as far away as Italy.

“We’re very happy it’s such a worldwide event,” Miss Mayhew said.

The opening-day ceremony will be an all-day event for the first time and will include the traditional Smithsonian Kite Festival on the Mall.

Jim Sebastian of the D.C. Department of Transportation said improvements this year would better allow tourists to “see the blossoms, not the traffic.”

This marks the 94th anniversary of the 1912 gift of the trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington.

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