Cherry blossom season in DC: National Park Service keeps an eye on crowd control

WASHINGTON — Officials in the nation’s capital are watching the crowds as cherry blossom season begins in earnest.

The distinctive white and pink petals reached full bloom last Sunday, about a week earlier than expected. It’s an event that normally brings in thousands of visitors and signals the unofficial start of D.C.’s peak tourist and convention season.

But Washington remains largely locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic, with limitations on outdoor gatherings and Smithsonian museums and galleries and its National Zoo shuttered.

“We’re starting to open slowly,” said Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew. “We really hope that people are being smart. We’ve all gone through enough this past year that we don’t want to revert back.”

The National Park Service stands poised to limit access to the Tidal Basin and its high concentration of cherry blossom trees if the crowds there grow too thick.

Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said local virus metrics have been encouraging, but vigilance was still the order of the day.

“The numbers have all been moving in the right direction for the last couple of months, but the last thing we want to do is let our guard down, have enormous crowds at the Tidal Basin, and then all of a sudden start to see things swing back up again,” he said.

Litterst said that so far the crowds have been manageable and well-behaved. But the park service will be watching the area around the Jefferson Memorial to make sure no choke points are forming and social distancing can be maintained.

“Cherry blossom season is our Super Bowl. We take care of these trees all year long. We plan events with our partners. We get ready, and to show off those 3,700 trees every year is the highlight of our year,” Litterst said. “So to not have that opportunity for a second year in a row is certainly heartbreaking, it’s bittersweet. But again, we are confident in our decision, knowing that we are doing the right thing to help us long-term get out of this pandemic.”

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