Members of Congress left the nation's capital last Friday for a two-week break, just as the city's famous cherry trees went into full bloom. They are not the only ones missing out on what many refer to as Washington’s grandest springtime tradition: for the second year in a row, access to the trees is being limited by the National Park Service.
Still, on a beautiful early spring day Tuesday, hundreds made their way over south of the Washington Monument where the trees line the Potomac River Tidal Basin.
"We just are enjoying the weather," said George, holding his infant daughter Grace in his arms. "It’s wonderful to enjoy the sunshine, the cherry blossoms."
Wearing face masks and being careful to avoid the larger gathering areas, George and his family strolled slowly by, taking in a tradition they have been enjoying since moving to the area in 2017.
"Well, it means spring," said George. "And the [cherry blossoms] are a symbol of life."
The cherry trees, first planted as a gift from Japan in 1912, hit their peak blossom two days ago, according to the National Park Service, which was ahead of projection.
"We had a run of really warm weather late last week," said NPS Spokesperson Mike Litterst. "Including an 82-degree day on Saturday, and that really accelerated us through the last phase of the bloom process."
Because of the lingering pandemic, the NPS has been asking people not to come out to see the blossoms in person, but rather view them online through their 'bloom cam.' But they know an event that normally draws 1.5 million people, is still going to bring some crowds.
"We have been prepared since last Friday to close pedestrian access, if necessary," Litterst said in a Zoom interview. "Vehicle access is already closed. We have been pleasantly surprised with the numbers of people that we have seen so far have been a fraction of what we would see in a normal year."
One of those who come in a normal year is Christy Thiele.
"I grew up coming here and it’s a tradition of my family to see the cherry blossoms," Thiele said.
Thiele said, after not coming last year, she was determined to come out today with her boys and her father.
"I think it’s been a rough year over the last 16 months," Thiele said. "So, it’s nice to have some normalcy and some traditions that we’ve always done."