US Capital Tries to Cut Visits To Famed Cherry Blossoms Park
Washington, D.C.'s cherry trees are known around the world for their blossoms. The beautiful flowers brighten up many areas along the Potomac River each spring.
But this year as the blossoms go through peak bloom, the District of Columbia government is trying to stop visits to the Tidal Basin, where many of the trees grow.
D.C. officials have appealed to the United States National Park Service to close off the area as part of efforts to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Officials say the expected crowds make it impossible for people to stay at least two meters from one another as health experts have advised.
The Metropolitan Police Department closed several streets, bridges and traffic circles in the area Sunday morning, trying to limit the usual crowds. The cherry trees reached full bloom on Friday and should stay that way for about 10 days.
"It's getting weirder and weirder," said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst about his efforts to stop people from visiting.
Officials are instead directing cherry blossom lovers to the "live" bloom camera and video recordings of the Tidal Basin.
"It's educational and it gets you close to the blossoms," said Karyn Le Blanc of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
"These are strange times," she added.
The crowds, Litterst said, have already been much smaller than "what we would see in a normal spring." But, he added, Saturday brought in such a jump in the number of visitors that officials were persuaded to take action.
The effort to reduce visiting appears to be working. At the Tidal Basin Sunday, visitors walked in small groups of three or four instead of larger groups. The street closures slowed traffic in a few places. But in some areas, families enjoyed the streets newly open to walkers only.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday asked both city residents and visitors to stay inside and away from other people. Washington's public transport system closed down two stations nearest to the Tidal Basin in the hopes of reducing crowds.
"Don't treat this like a normal weekend, there will be more nice days," Bowser said.
She declared a state of emergency and closed all schools through the end of April. The total number of coronavirus infections is now more than 500 in D.C. and the nearby states of Virginia and Maryland.
Washington-based star chef and philanthropist Jose Andres took to Twitter Sunday morning to ask people to avoid the Tidal Basin. Under the hashtag #StayHomeCherryBlossomsChallenge, Andres promised to "cook a huge Paella for thousands of Washingtonians" next year if they kept the crowds small.
His followers supported his request by posting pictures of their cherry blossom trees in their neighborhoods for all to enjoy online.
I'm Jonathan Evans.