Friday, April 3, 2009

Cherry Blossom Festival in NJ

The Cherry Blossom Festival is this month in Newark, NJ and is sponsored by the Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs. You don’t need to travel to Washington D.C. to see beautiful cherry blossoms if you live near New Jersey. The Cherry Blossom Festival is at Branch Brook Park and (weather permitting) runs from April 10th to the 23rd attracting more than 10,000 visitors.

Technology comes to the festival this year - check out a webcam that's watching the park blossoms. The park is noted for its 2,700 cherry trees.

Branch Book Park was formally created in 1895, making it the nation's first county park, by the newly-created Essex County Parks Commission. The area had formally served as an Army training ground during the American Civil War and the northern portion of the area had been a marsh known as Old Blue Jay Swamp.

In 1898, a public appropriation financed the conversion of the swamp into a landscaped lake of 60 acres bit it grew in the 1920s through private donations from prominent Newark families, such as the Ballantines, eventually reaching the city limit with Belleville and becoming one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

The Morris Canal originally ran on the park's west side, until its old bed was turned into the Newark City Subway, providing access to the park from Downtown Newark.

The cherry trees were a 1927 gift from Caroline Bamberger Fuld, sister of department store magnate Louis Bamberger. Bamberger was Newark's leading citizen from the early 1900s until his death in 1944.

During WWII, the park's grounds served as a tent city for recruits, as well as a landing strip for airplanes of the United States Postal Service.

If you visit the park, you should also visit the grand houses of the neighborhood on the east side of the park called Forest Hill.

Also on the east side of the park is the Fench Gothic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart which is the fifth largest cathedral in the United States. It has been placed on both the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

You can help Branch Brook Park regain the title of having the largest and most diverse collection of flowering cherry blossom trees by helping the Branch Brook Park Alliance fund the planting of new trees.

SOME ACTIVITIES THIS MONTH Get a printable program of events.

Sunday, April 5th: 10K Run, 7:30 a.m. Registration
9 a.m. Children's Fun Run
10 a.m. 10K Race
10:10 a.m. Race for the Disabled
This year's race has been sanctioned by the USATF as a NJ Open Women's Championship. Plus, a Children's Fun Run for ages 12 and younger will be held. Registration fees apply. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Special Olympics. Sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey. For information, please call 973-268-3500, Ext. 254.

Tuesday, April 14th: Cherry Blossom Gala
Support the Branch Brook Park Alliance by attending this enchanted evening of dinner at Nanina's in the Park restaurant in Belleville. For information and tickets, please call 973-268-2300 or visit

Saturday, April 18th: Bike Race 7 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Race through the cherry tree groves in a cycling tradition or cheer on the racers while enjoying a day in the park. Registration fees apply. For information, please call 973-268-3500.

Saturday, April 18th: Nature Photography Workshop
9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Join Brien Szabo as he leads an indoor/outdoor photography workshop focused on the County's historic cherry tree collection. Cost is $35. Pre-registration is required. For information and registration, please call 973-239-7072.

Sunday, April 19th: Bloomfest 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Enjoy a free, family-friendly festival in the park. A day-long schedule of events is planned, featuring Japanese cultural activities, including demonstrations on origami, bonsai, ikebana and dance. For information, please call 973-239-2485.

Sunday, April 26th: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
7 a.m. Registration
8:45 a.m. 5K Run Begins
9 a.m. 5K Walk Begins
Returning to Essex County Branch Brook Park for the second year, this 5K Run/Walk is a fundraiser for the fight against breast cancer and a celebration of breast cancer survivorship. For information and registration, please call 908-277-2904, Ext. 30 or visit

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