- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

Thousands of tourists from across the nation descended on the Tidal Basin over the weekend for the start of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

“They’re spectacular,” said Aroub Yousaf, 8, of Chambersburg, Pa., who climbed out of a blue rowboat across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial.

U.S. Park Police said no complaints or problems were reported, although the chilly air yesterday seemed to take some tourists by surprise.

About 1 million tourists are expected to view the cherry blossoms during the 16-day festival, which ends April 13. This year’s festival marks the 96th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan.

Parking was scarce during the weekend, as the Washington Nationals played their first game at the new baseball stadium in Southeast and the National Marathon was run. Spaces along the Mall were occupied or blocked off to allow for more pedestrian traffic near the cherry trees.

Along one block of Constitution Avenue in Northwest, pink citations on illegally parked cars matched nearby blossoms.

To relieve the problems of bottlenecking of past years, officials closed a 180-spot parking lot near the Tidal Basin. The lot now holds a welcome tent, a first-aid station and vendors selling Japanese-inspired food.

Latiska Watson, 18, declared the blossoms “pretty.” She was among 43 classmates from Austin, Ind., on a high school senior trip.

On the northern edge of the Tidal Basin, Caitlin Greenhill, 16, of Maroneck, N.Y., was reproducing the blossoms and the surrounding scenery on a square of canvas.

“They’re beautiful,” she said, shivering. “I’m freezing, but it’s worth it.”

A block away, along the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, a family from Hawaii was playing and feeding bread and pretzels to dozens of assembled ducks and white gulls. Ed and Carolyn Vierro mostly watched while Laurel, 3, fed the birds and Ka’imipono, 11, threw pretzels.

“There are no ducks in Hawaii,” said Mrs. Vierro, adding that the family felt fortunate to be in the District during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

The festival, begun in 1935, now generates about $184 million for the District. The calendar holds more than 200 cultural, sporting and arts events.

The ceremony opened Saturday with a jazz concert by Tateshina High School of Japan and the Howard University Jazz Ensemble. It will culminate with the Parade of the National Cherry Blossom Festival on April 12.

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