Park Service will cut off access to cherry blossoms if crowds grow too large

It’s the time of year when droves of people head to see the soft pink and fuchsia buds of the cherry blossoms open on the Tidal Basin in D.C. But given the risk of COVID-19 spreading among expected crowds, the National Park Service is taking an all-or-nothing approach to access to the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park during peak bloom.

“We will keep access to the trees open as long as we can. But once crowds have reached the point that social distancing can no longer be maintained, we will close access points to all vehicles and pedestrians, and any closures that occur would remain in place until after peak bloom has passed, and the likelihood of large crowds has dissipated,” said NPS spokesman Mike Litterst.

The National Park Service anticipates peak bloom between April 2 and 5 — that’s when 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin will be open.

Officials are hoping the public will visit the cherry blossoms virtually instead of heading to the National Mall, offering a host of online events for all ages. There is a virtual 3.3-mile walk with visual points of interest the user can select to see; “Bloomin’ Junior Ranger” activities (complete with a virtual Junior Ranger badge); trivia; games; and a special virtual cherry blossom stamp for the Passport to Your National Parks.

And of course, there’s a BloomCam.


 

 


“This was a heartbreaking decision for us … But even though COVID numbers are trending in the right direction, and many people have been vaccinated, CDC guidance is very clear that all people, regardless of vaccination status, should avoid medium- or large- size in-person gatherings. And we will be prepared to restrict access should those gatherings start to appear at the Tidal Basin,” Litterst said.

Road closures around the cherry blossoms will go into effect if the Park Service has to close the area due to large crowds.

“We anticipate that the closure dates, if they occur, would fall into that March 26-April 12 window. It’s not a matter that they will definitely close on March 26 and stay closed through April 12,” Litterst said.

  • Ohio Drive SW, from Buckeye Drive SW (Washington Channel side) to Independence Avenue SW
  • East Basin Drive SW east of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Ohio Drive SW
  • West Basin Drive SW from Ohio Drive SW to Independence Avenue SW
  • Tidal Basin walking trail
  • Northbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2)
  • Southbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Tidal Basin paddle boats
  • All curbside parking and parking lots within the closure

 

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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