This March, there was a palpable sense of excitement as over 300,000 Yoshino Cherry trees began blooming in Macon, welcoming the 31st annual Cherry Blossom Festival on March 15-24.
The festival honors realtor William A. Fickling Sr., whose deep passion for horticulture and fondness for Yoshino cherry blossoms brought about the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Enthralled by the cherry blossom’s beauty, he decided to donate cherry blossom trees and have Carolyn Crayton plant the trees around the Macon area.
Crayton launched the Cherry Blossom Festival in 1982 “to celebrate the beauty of the trees and to honor Fickling for all he had so generously contributed to the town,” according to the festival’s website, www.cherryblossom.com.
Macon resident Martha Ann Altman has volunteered at the Cherry Blossom Festival for 30 years.
“I was there when Carolyn Crayton announced she was going to have a Cherry Blossom Festival to honor Mr. Fickling. My best friend and I looked at one another and laughed [saying] ‘he gonna’ come to Macon. We just never really thought it would be what it is,” said Altman.
The rides and events at the festival have made significant changes since 30 years ago.
“The rides have evolved, and Linda Maddox is director of the park and has worked through the years to get it to this point. It’s grown. When we first started being at the park there was just a tour group and a table selling t-shirts,” said Altman.
The festival has expanded from selling t-shirts to now having rides, concerts, shows and even petting zoos featuring exotic animals.
The festival also has daily events filled with entertaining competitions. For example, on various days throughout the festival, there were Bengal tiger shows, presented by the Farm Bureau.
“The excitement, education and fun and safe factors of this show cannot be overstated. The cats are treated with respect and care and are not harmed in any manner,” as it says on the Cherry Blossom website.
There are also numerous riding tours, which show pedestrians the beauty of Macon.
Altman volunteers as a tour bus guide and loves showing tourists the beauty of Macon.
“My favorite thing has always been to be a tour guide and have people on my raving about how beautiful is,” said Altman.
On the last night of the festival, a Grand Finale Fireworks Showcase took place at dusk with children’s activities, food concessions and live entertainment from Louise Warren and Gringo Grande.
Stands with vendors selling items including arts and crafts, jewelry, carpentry, clothes and even floral arrangements give the Cherry Blossom Festival Headquarters an electric atmosphere.
First-time attender and craft vendor Cindy James enjoyed the southern hospitality.
“This is my first time being here, and it’s been very good. People are southern!” said James.
The festival attracts vendors from all over the country. Face paint artist Sandra Wolf from Kansas City, Mo. knows why the festival is great for vendors.
“The southern hospitality is just amazing here. I have never worked in any festival where the vendors were treated like VIPs. There is really a good spirit here,” said Wolf.
Even for first-time attendees, like James and Wolf, it is easy to see the festival’s impact extends into the Macon community.
“It’s really a chance for the whole community to come together and to accomplish some goals for the community, but also [the community’s] fellowship together and just having fun. It’s a celebration. It’s not about money, it’s about people,” said Wolf.