NEWARK — After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the 46th annual Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival returns with 5,200 trees in bloom.

The festival, with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ as the premier sponsor, will be held from Saturday, April 2 to Sunday, April 10 in Branch Brook Park in Newark, said Deputy Parks Director Kate Hartwyk.

Different activities are planned in different sections of the park but most activities will be held at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center, which is in the north section of the park, she said.

Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
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What is the history of the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park?

Hartwyk said many of the original cherry blossoms that were planted in Branch Brook Park were donated to the Essex County Park System by Mrs. Felix Fuld, who was part of the Bamberger family. The gift was made in 1927 after the Fuld family visited Washington, D.C. and were inspired by the cherry blossom collection there.

According to the Branch Brook Park Alliance, the original cherry trees began to die because of old age, and in 2006, it was determined that the original collection had diminished quite significantly.

County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. kicked off an aggressive planting program to strengthen and expand the number of cherry trees. To date, there are 5,200 cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park.

"We have more than 14 different varieties, which makes us the most diverse collection on the East Coast," Hartwyk said.

Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
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What events will take place during the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival?

Some of the key events that will take place during the Cherry Blossom Festival from April 2 -10 include:

Cherry Blossom Challenge Annual Bike Race - Saturday, April 2 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the park on Heller Parkway, Newark. Race through Branch Brook Park in the Cherry Blossom Challenge or cheer on cyclists while enjoying a beautiful spring day. It's free to enter the park and watch.

Cherry Blossom 10K Run - Sunday, April 3 at the Cherry Blossom Center on Mill Street, Newark. Registration begins at 8 a.m. 10K race starts at 10 a.m. This is one of the kick-off events. Hartwyk said at last check there were over 900 runners already registered for the event but she expects it to cap out at 1,200 runners, one of the largest totals ever. A portion of the race proceeds benefits the Special Olympics.

1-Mile Fun Run and Walk - Saturday, April 9 at 10 a.m. at the park's southern division, Prudential Concert Grove, Newark. Children are encouraged to run individually or as a member of a school team. All participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt.

Essex County Family Day - Saturday, April 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Prudential Concert Grove, Newark. This will be an afternoon of family fun with a variety of events including live performances and children's activities. Bring your own picnic lunch or purchase food from on-site vendors. Admission is free.

Bloomfest - Sunday, April 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the main area set up at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center, Mill Street, Newark, and a second stage set up at the Prudential Concert Grove, Newark. Hartwyk said this is the culminating event of the festival. It will feature live performances, cultural demonstrations, children's activities, a crafter's marketplace, food, and more.

She said the park gets very busy for Bloomfest so there will be a satellite location set up at the Prudential Concert Grove, which will have food vendors and live performances as well.

Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
Cherry Blossoms in Branch Brook Park, Newark (Photo Credit: Glen Frieson)
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Donations are being recognized in a "Cherry Blossom Giving Tree" located at the entrance of the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center. People can support a cherry blossom tree and their names will be engraved in the visitor's center. They can also participate in the memorial bench program. Leave a message on a bench in the park.

"On festival day itself, we have about 25,000 people in the park. But over the course of the month of April during bloom season, we'll have well over 200,000 people visit Branch Brook Park," Hartwyk said.

She encouraged people to check the website and social media pages to get up-to-the-minute information on the weekly events and where the park is in the bloom season. The weather can be unpredictable and dates may change.

Hartwyk said cherry blossoms usually bloom in early April but they can bloom as early as March 23. Right now the blossoms are in the budding stage and will remain there during this cold weather snap.

But she said once they are in the flowering stage, that's it. If it rains, if it gets too hot or there are heavy winds, the trees will die quickly.

However, the good news is that the more than 5,000 cherry blossoms are on target to be in peak bloom April 1 - 5, just in time for the festival.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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