Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that the 40th annual Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival will be the first spring that the 5,000 cherry trees in Essex County Branch Brook Park will bloom together since an additional 1,000 trees were planted last year. The milestone anniversary festival kicks off on Saturday, April 9th with a day-long schedule of competitive bike races and concludes on Sunday, April 24th with Bloomfest, a community and cultural fair. The Executive also announced that Aetna is returning as the Marquee Sponsor of the Cherry Blossom Festival for the seventh consecutive 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. Since its creation 40 years ago, 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,” DiVincenzo said. “This year, our display will be even more dynamic because it will be the first time that all 5,000 cherry trees will blossom during the same season since our aggressive planting and expansion program was initiated,” he added.

“We invite the public to visit the Park and participate in the line-up of activities that we have planned to celebrate Spring. Admire the beauty of the trees, learn about the history of our Parks System and engage in Japanese cultural demonstrations. The blossoming trees create a pink and white canopy that is perfect for picnics, photographs and simple enjoyment,” the Executive said.

Other government officials shared stories about the Cherry Blossoms and their importance.

“This time of year, everyone is thinking pink and there is no better place to reflect that that Branch Brook Park. The beauty of the Cherry Blossoms will put you in a different frame of mind. It’s a destination place,” Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver said.

“I thrilled that we have such a large and diverse collection of Cherry Trees. This is a spectacular display that I make sure I see every year,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “I came to this park as a child and pictures that my mother has show me with absolute joy on my face. I applaud the County Executive for making sure the trees are maintained,” Freeholder Leonard Luciano said.

“I have a lot of memories about Branch Brook Park. My father, who lived to be in his 90s used to walk from the Ironbound to the park. It was a fantastic place back then but it is even better today because of our County Executive and the Branch Brook Park Alliance,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

“The Cherry Blossoms are an iconic part of growing up. So many families can chronicle their stage of life because they came for family pictures, Easter pictures, wedding pictures,” Essex County Chief of Staff Phil Alagia said. “Everyone likes to claim Branch Brook Park as their own backyard because it is such a fantastic place. The Festival provides an opportunity to share and experience the outdoors,” Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne said.

“Congratulations to the County Executive for continuing the celebration of this beautiful park the Cherry Blossoms. Activities like the festival gives us an opportunity to celebrate our open space treasures and witness their beauty,” Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson said.

Early attempts to host a festival to highlight the beauty of the cherry blossoms faded over time. However, in 1976, members of the Greater Newark Chamber of Commerce and the newly-formed Friends of Branch Brook Park incorporated themselves as the Newark Cherry Blossom Festival to “celebrate urban living and to showcase the cultural, physical, and natural assets of our city and Branch Brook Park in particular.” The first Cherry Blossom Festival included a five-mile run and shorter fun run for children, bicycling event, fishing, concerts and tours of the nearby Forest Hills neighborhood. The schedule of events has evolved through the years, although the spirit of the original festival continues today.

The 40th Annual Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival includes the following events:

 Cherry Blossom Challenge Annual Bike Race

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. It’s free to enter the park and watch. The Cherry Blossom Challenge Bike Race will be held as follows:

                                                                           Date:               Saturday, April 9, 2016

                                                                           Time:              7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

                                                                           Place:             Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                                    Heller Parkway

                                                                                                    Newark, NJ

Cherry Blossom 10K Run

Run through the historic cherry tree groves in this race that is sanctioned by the USATF. 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. Race starts at 10 a.m. Disabled Run starts at 10:10 a.m. It’s free to enter the park and watch. The Cherry Blossom 10K Run will be held as follows:

                                                                        Date:               Sunday, April 10, 2016

                                                                        Time:              Registration: 8 a.m.

                                                                                                  10K Race: 10 a.m.

                                                                                                 Race for the Disabled: 10:10 a.m.

                                                                        Place:             Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                                  Cherry Blossom Center

                                                                                                  Mill Street

                                                                                                  Newark, NJ

 1-Mile Fun Run and Walk

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 calling 973-268-3500. This is a free event. All participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt. The Fun Run and Walk will be held as follows:

Date:               Saturday, April 16, 2016

                                                                      Time:              8 a.m. Registration

                                                                                                10 a.m. Race

                                                                       Place:             Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                                Southern Division, Prudential Concert Grove

                                                                                                 Newark, NJ

 Essex County Family Day

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. Admission is free but food and other merchandise will be for sale. The Family Day will be held as follows:

Date:               Saturday, April 16, 2016

                                                                      Time:              11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

                                                                      Place:             Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                               Southern Division, Prudential Concert Grove

                                                                                               Newark, NJ


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. Winners from the “Why My Essex County Park is Important to Me” essay contest for 4th graders and “Cherry Blossom Poster Contest” for 6th graders will be recognized on stage. Admission is free; food and merchandise will be for sale. Bloomfest will be as follows:

                                                                     Date:               Sunday, April 24, 2016

                                                                     Times:                       11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

                                                                     Place:             Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                              Cherry Blossom Center

                                                                                              Mill Street

                                                                                              Newark, NJ

Cherry Blossom Guided Tours

Have knowledgeable guides take you on a 45-minute journey and point out over 120 years of history hidden within Essex County Branch Brook Park’s structure and design. Tours leave from the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center daily at 11 a.m., 12 Noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Transportation around the park is provided. Tickets are $5 person and can be reserved by calling 973-433-7469. Tickets also will be available for purchase in the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center on days the tours are being held. Space is limited. For group or private tour bookings, call 973-433-7469. The Trolley Tours will be held as follows:

                                                                    Dates:             Sunday, April 17th through Saturday, April 23rd

                                                                    Times:                       11 a.m., 12 Noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

                                                                    Place:                         Essex County Branch Brook Park

                                                                                                         Cherry Blossom Welcome Center

                                                                                                          Mill Street

                                                                                                          Newark, NJ

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 and clicking on the Cherry Blossom link. More information can also be obtained by calling 973-433-9047.

The Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival is hosted by the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. It is sponsored by Aetna.

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 $250 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. Please write “Cherry Blossom Campaign” 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 $250 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.

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.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Branch Brook Park was created in 1895 and is the first park in Essex County’s system. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest county park in Essex.