Park takes joggers on cherry blossom tour

WASHINGTON But he did think of staying away this year, weary of fighting traffic, traipsing through muddy grounds trampled by tourists and trying to snap that perfect photograph with throngs of people in the way.

"It seems like no matter where you go, you're going to run into crowds," said Kwon, a consultant from McLean, Va.

For the 16-day National Cherry Blossom Festival beginning Saturday, visitors like Kwon can get a viewing without the daunting crowds: lantern-lit tours at night, boat rides on the Potomac River and, for the first time, early morning jogs.

More than 1 million people are expected for the festival, which has become Washington's signature tourist event since it began in 1935.

Executive director Diana Mayhew said to better handle the crowds, there's now interest in spreading out the time people visit the blossoms and encouraging them to explore beyond the Tidal Basin.

This year's festival includes dozens of events celebrating the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the United States from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo.

For the first time, the National Park Service is offering early morning "cherry chit-chat" runs.

Before the busloads of tourists arrive, park ranger Rebbecca Steketee will take runners on a 3.5-mile jog that starts at the Washington Monument and continues to the Jefferson Memorial before winding around the Tidal Basin.

Along the way, Steketee will share little-known facts about the blossoms.

The first trees from Japan, for instance, arrived in 1910, she said. But they were so infested with insects and disease that the Agriculture Department had them burned. Some were spared, and remain alive today at a nearby golf course.

Runners also will pass the peculiar "indicator tree" near the Jefferson Memorial. The tree got its name because it blooms about a week before the other cherry trees.

"We don't know why it blooms ahead of the others," Steketee said. "It's a mystery."

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