- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

This year was supposed to mark the inaugural Blossom Kite Festival on the Mall, the National Cherry Blossom Festival having taken the event’s strings from the Smithsonian Institution.

But with the prospect of a federal government shutdown looming, the fate of this year’s festival is, er, up in the air.

In the event of a shutdown over the weekend, the National Park Service would be stripped of permits needed for the Cherry Blossom Festival to continue, thus canceling not only the popular Cherry Blossom Parade but — for the first time ever — Sunday’s kite festival as well. The latter already had been postponed by two weeks, thanks to bad weather.

Each year, people of all ages and experience levels flock to the Mall near the Washington Monument to watch and participate in the day of events showcasing the high-flying hobby. About 25,000 people converged on the Mall last year, between the kite festival site and the Capitol, said Danielle Piacente, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

While there are usually fewer than 100 actual kite festival flyers, Ms. Piacente explained, many more non-competing flyers take advantage of the area’s sweeping expanses. Last year, she said, the festival handed out about 1,000 kites, which were gone in a matter of minutes.

Paul LaMasters, a member of the kite festival committee and member of Wings Over Washington Kite Club, said audience participation is key for any of the events: The Hot Tricks winner is chosen by applause, and lucky audience members are picked by competitors to help in the Rokkaku Battle.

Mr. LaMasters said that this year’s kite festival was scaled back a bit to help prepare for next year’s centennial anniversary of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

If the kite festival isn’t canceled this year, the event will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

People can enter the kite festival competition as early as 10 a.m., and there will be various demonstrations throughout the late morning and early afternoon, including a youth kite-maker battle at noon.

The more competitive Rokkaku Battle will pit flyers against each other as they maneuver their kites through the sky in an effort to “cut” the competition down and end up as the last kite flying.

A recent study by George Mason University estimated that the festival brings at least $126 million in revenue to the District.

The original cherry trees were a gift of friendship from the people of Japan in 1912. Millions of visitors descend upon Washington each year to enjoy the beauty of the 1,678 cherry trees, which for roughly two weeks each spring ring the Tidal Basin with their pink and white flowers.

For information on the status of the kite and Cherry Blossom festivals and their respective events, go to www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org

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