WASHINGTON – The National Cherry Blossom Festival is usually a time to celebrate spring. But this year,the festival will begin with an event to reflect on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan,which gave the capital its first cherry trees 99 years ago.
The festival is hosting an event Thursday night in honor of Japan at the Washington Monument followed by a solemn walk around the Tidal Basin,which is surrounded by the blooming trees.
“These trees are an enduring perennial reminder of the Japanese people,” Caroline Cunningham,president of the Trust for the National Mall,said at a press conference Thursday at the Tidal Basin.
The official festival begins Saturday when the blossoms will be near peak bloom,according to the festival’s website.
More than a million people are expected to attend festival events from Saturday to April 10. The festival brings in $5.2 billion to Washington every year,Elliott Ferguson,Destination D.C. president,said.
The National Park Service is working with numerous Washington organizations to help the city accommodate the seasonal crowds. NPS includes a cherry blossom webcam on its website.
Metro assistant general manager Barbara Richardson said the rail and bus system broke three ridership records during last year’s Cherry Blossom Festival. She said Metro began on Monday to add more cars to trains,each of which will have 640 extra seats during the festival.
“Our riders need to know stations and trains will be crowded,” Richardson said.
Tourmobile Sightseeing will provide shuttles every 30 minutes to transport festival-goers to and from Hains Point,the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin – the three primary locations for the festival.
Athletes,children and foodies will all find something to do during the festival.
Bike tours,runs,walks and audio tours will be available. The Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument has free performances daily. Visitors can fly kites below the monument,and children can take part in hands-on activities at the National Building Museum’s Family Day.
Photographers who capture the blossoms on camera have a chance to win $500 and a chance to display their images at an annual art show. The National Cherry Blossom Festival and FotoDC are hosting the first National Cherry Blossom Festival Photo Contest. In another first this year,the festival and the Arbor Day Foundation are selling cherry blossom trees that people can plant in their own yards.
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