NEWARK, NJ — The trees are beginning to bloom at Essex County’s Branch Brook Park just in time for the 43rd annual Cherry Blossom Festival—an Essex County tradition that highlights the blooming season of the 5,000 Cherry Blossom trees.
“We have the largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the United States; we have more than Washington D.C.,” said Patricia Sebold, a Livingston resident and Essex County Freeholder. “Every year people come from all over—not just New Jersey—by the thousands to see the spectacular event.
"Residents should not miss the opportunity to visit Branch Brook Park to see the display…Nothing compares to the beauty of the Cherry Blossom trees and Branch Brook Park at this time of year.”
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. officially kicked things off for the season on Thursday as he outlined the schedule of events (listed below) and welcomed Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ) as the event’s premiere sponsor this year.
“The natural beauty of the cherry blossoms has been attracting visitors to the park since they were first planted there in the late 1920s,” said DiVincenzo. “The festival has helped unify the community, highlighted the benefits of Branch Brook Park and the local neighborhood and enabled the public to enjoy the blooming trees in a variety of ways.”
A unique line-up of activities throughout the month of April offers visitors the opportunity to admire the beauty of the trees, learn about the history of the Essex County Parks System and engage in Japanese cultural demonstrations.
In addition to the scheduled events, DiVincenzo also noted that the blossoming trees “create a pink-and-white canopy that is perfect for picnics, photographs and simple enjoyment.”
“So many people come to the park at this time of year,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura. “This is an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. We encourage people to come out and see for themselves how beautiful and safe the park is.”
Anibal Ramos, a council member for Newark’s North Ward, noted that thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year, the Cherry Blossom Festival “provides a boost to the local economy and gives residents the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the park.”
“The Cherry Blossoms are an incredible gift to the people of New Jersey,” Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne. “It’s a great opportunity to get outside and welcome the arrival of spring.”
DiVincenzo thanked Horizon BCBSNJ for sponsoring this year’s event, stating that the support “is instrumental in helping [the county] stage activities that highlight the natural beauty of [the] parks and engage the community.”
Kevin Conlin, president and chief executive officer of Horizon BCBSNJ, said it was an honor to do so.
“A mission of Frederick Law Olmsted was creating a public place that could provide people with physical and mental exercise,” he said. “Horizon believes in those principles and that’s exactly what this park and this festival mean.”
The 43rd Annual Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival includes the following events:
Cherry Blossom Challenge Annual Bike Race - Saturday, April 6
Race through Branch Brook Park in the Cherry Blossom Challenge, a competitive New Jersey tradition, or cheer on the cyclists while enjoying a day in the fresh, spring air. Various races occur throughout the morning, with the first race at 7 a.m. and the last race at 12 Noon. Registration fees apply to racers, but it is free to enter the park and watch.
Cherry Blossom 10K Run - Sunday, April 7
The Cherry Blossoms provide a beautiful canopy for runners as they make their way through Branch Brook Park. A portion of the race proceeds benefit the Special Olympics. Online registration can be done at www.compuscore.com. Same-day registration begins at 8 a.m. Advanced registration is recommended. The race starts at 10 a.m. It is free to enter the park and watch.
1-Mile Fun Run and Walk - Saturday, April 13
Celebrate the arrival of spring and get fit with your family or friends. Children are encouraged to run individually or as a member of a school team. Schools and groups must register in advance by contacting Jacquelyn Matthews at email@example.com. This is a free event. All participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt.
Essex County Family Day - Saturday, April 13
The public is encouraged to come out and enjoy an afternoon of family-fun with a variety of events including live performances, children’s activities, a fishing derby and more. Bring your own picnic lunch or purchase food from vendors who will be on site and enjoy the picturesque views overlooking the lake.
The Chris Clark Bike Show will be held at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The fishing derby begins at 12 noon; awards will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free, but food and other merchandise will be for sale.
Bloomfest - Sunday, April 14
Enjoy a family day in the pink park! A packed schedule of events includes cultural demonstrations, children's activities, live music, a crafter's marketplace, food and more at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center. Winners from the “Why My Essex County Park is Important to Me” essay contest for 4th graders will be recognized on stage.
Additional musical performances will be held at the Prudential Concert Grove in the Southern Division of the park. Admission is free; food and merchandise will be for sale.
Cherry Blossom Guided Tours - April 18, 19, 20, 22, 26 & 27
Have knowledgeable guides take you on a 45-minute journey and point out the history hidden within Essex County Branch Brook Park’s structure and design. Tours leave from the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center. Transportation around the park is provided.
Tickets are $8 person. Reservations are required and can be made at essexcountyparks.org. The Trolley Tours will be held at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon on the dates above.
Historic Tours by Cell Phone:
This free, self-guided historic walking tour can be accessed by cell phone or smart phone. Spend the day exploring all 72 tour stops or pick and choose your favorites. One call to 973-433-9047 or a scan of the bar code at each tour stop unlocks a world of park history and horticultural information.
History, driving directions, a complete list of activities and a web cam where the public can monitor the cherry trees for the peak of the bloom season can be accessed by visiting www.essexcountynj.org/branch-brook-park.
The Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival is hosted by the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. It is sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ and the Branch Brook Park Alliance.
Cherry Tree Planting Campaign:
The general public and business community can participate in a fundraising campaign to purchase and plant Cherry Trees in Essex County Branch Brook Park. Each new Cherry Tree can be purchased for $225 from the Essex County Parks Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Contributions to the foundation are tax-deductible, checks can be made out to “Essex County Parks Foundation” and mailed to the Essex County Parks Foundation, 115 Clifton Avenue, Newark, NJ 07104. "Cherry Blossom Campaign” should be written on the memo line of the check.
Donations are being recognized in a “Cherry Blossom Giving Tree” located at the entrance of the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center. Donations of $225 are recognized with a leaf on the Giving Tree and donations of $1,000 or more are recognized with special plaques on the Giving Tree wall. Donors can choose to have their name inscribed on the Giving Tree or make the contribution in memory of a loved one.
More About the Branch Brook Park Cherry Trees:
Many of the original Cherry Trees planted in Branch Brook Park were donated to the Essex County Park System by the Bamberger and Mrs. Felix Fuld family in 1927. At its height, there were about 2,500 Cherry Trees in Branch Brook Park.
According to the Branch Brook Park Alliance, the original Cherry Trees began to die because of old age and, in 2006, it was determined the original collection had diminished significantly. County Executive DiVincenzo kicked off an aggressive planting program to strengthen and expand the number of cherry trees.
To date, there are more than 5,000 cherry blossoms throughout Branch Brook Park.