The first day of spring this year was welcomed by the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World with a namesake festival: the International Cherry Blossom Festival. With attractions ranging from food trucks to a petting zoo, Macon residents showed up both in the sun and in the rain to enjoy the traditional festival.
The festival was first started in 1982 by the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, after Yoshino cherry trees were discovered by Macon resident William Fickling Sr. Struck by their beauty, he quickly began planting more in Macon, which drew the eye of Carolyn Crayton, who was executive director for the commission at the time. It was Crayton’s idea to host the festival to both celebrate the beauty of the trees and also to honor Fickling for his donations of approximately 500 trees alongside Wesleyan Woods, Guerry Drive and Oxford Road.
In the thirty years that have passed, the event has become one of the Top 20 Events in the South and one of the Top 50 in the U.S., according to the official web page of the festival. Spanning 10 days, the festival draws people from all over to celebrate the Yoshino Cherry Tree.
The Fickling Family Foundation has also contributed to the number of cherry trees, which now number over 300,000.
Those who have been to the festival before know that there are attractions for all ages. Festivities started as early as 7 a.m., when the Macon-Bibb Fire Department served pink pancakes for early risers. On the second Saturday and Sunday, Mulberry Street was lined with booths of both local and out-of-town vendors looking to sell their wares at the Mulberry Street Arts and Crafts Festival.
A free petting zoo and camel rides offered animal entertainment for the children, as well as rides, provided by Drew Exposition.
Blue Ridge Helicopter Rides offered participants a tour over the “Pinkest Park on Earth,” the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds and other Macon sites.
Each day also had its own special entertainment, such as the 2nd Annual Varsity Cruise In on March 22, which allowed car fanatics to show off their classic car at Sid’s Sandwich Shop. Greg Glenn, a sand sculptor, worked on-site with open viewing for the festival, and each night promised a different band playing in the Central City Park on the Coca-Cola Entertainment Stage.
No matter which day it was, there was always something to do, and most of it was even free. There were plenty of opportunities to spend money, though, both at the arts and crafts festivals and the Shop at the Park, which offered everything from jewelry to cook wear and even a little pet called the Sugar Bear, a marsupial that is a tiny cousin of the Kangaroo.
The Cherry Blossom Festival also crowned their own Queen and Princesses, who serve as the ambassadors for the festival and Macon. They appear at official festival events throughout the year and also receive scholarships for their work.