- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2014

Old Man Winter might still have some tricks up his sleeve. But for springtime revelers, the inevitable blooming of the District’s cherry blossom trees provide a blush-colored light at the end of the tunnel.

Next month, nearly 1,700 cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin will unleash their millions of blooms, ringing the reservoir in vibrant pink and white and signaling the unofficial start to spring.

The National Park Service this month predicted a peak bloom period — when more than 70 percent of the buds have opened — from April 8 to April 12. Ultimately, the fate of the blooms is up to Mother Nature, but blossom fans do have the assurance of at least three weeks of bloom-related fun.

The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for now to April 13, and organizers promise nearly a month packed with special events around the city for just about every age and interest.

“I think people always look forward to spring,” said Diana Mayhew, festival president. “It’s an uplifting time of year. The blossoms are blooming, it makes everyone feel good. Spring and the festival will come. We can only hope they coincide together.”

Among the highlights of the three-week celebration is the Blossom Kite Festival, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on March 29; a Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival, set for 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 5; and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, from 10 a.m. to noon on April 12.

Ongoing activities include Japanese exhibits and events hosted by the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and for the first time, a Japanese film festival from March 23 to March 27 at the E Street Cinema.

Japanese ceramics and other exhibits will be on display at the Japanese Embassy beginning April 10.

“Cherry blossom time is like the Super Bowl or Christmas,” said Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae.

For families, the National Building Museum is scheduled to host “Family Days” on March 22 and March 23, and on April 13 the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District is hosting a lantern-making event.

Nighttime events include the March 22 opening ceremony at the Warner Theatre, a Grand Sake Tasting on April 4 at the Carnegie Library, and the National Conference of State Societies Grand Ball on April 11.

“The festival brings attention not only from the region, the city, the country, but from around the world,” said Cynthia Brock-Smith, secretary of the District. “The cherry blossom festival is also a platform for local talent. It’s the greatest springtime celebration. This festival enlivens the region and brings out the art and culture.”

The heart of the festival, to be sure, is the cherry blossoms, and visitors have a variety of ways in which to see the blooms.

The Park Service is providing walking, running, bike and pet-friendly tours of the blossoms.

Park Service officials warn, however, that parking is limited around the Tidal Basin, so blossom watchers are encouraged to walk, ride a bike, or take Metro. The transit agency announced a four-week break from weekend track work to help handle the additional riders.

The break begins Saturday and runs through April 13. Trains will run on regular weekend schedules on all lines. The only weekend work during this time is scheduled for Sunday nights after 10 p.m.

Bob Vogel, superintendent of the Mall and memorial parks called the blossom festival “the nation’s greatest springtime celebration.”

“As surely as winter turns to spring, the cherry blossoms will bloom. The question is always when.”

The blossoms normally bloom between late March and early April, though extreme hot or cold temperatures have caused blooms as early as March 15 and as late as April 18. Officials say the blossoms have lasted as long as 18 days and as short as five days.

Based on early predictions, James Perry, chief of resource management for the Park Service, said if the blooming remains on schedule, it would be “a very fitting finale for the cherry blossom festival.”

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