Some of Washington’s Iconic Cherry Trees Are About to Disappear

Some of Washington’s Iconic Cherry Trees Are About to Disappear

Around 140 cherry trees that form part of Washington’s iconic spring attraction will be chopped down this year to make way for the construction of new, taller sea walls to protect the area around the Jefferson Memorial.

The National Park Service, which is overseeing the project, said on Wednesday that it had tried to minimize the loss of the trees, which erupt each year in a burst of pink and white splendor that draws more than 1.5 million visitors. But the age of the existing barriers, rising sea levels and poor drainage forced its hand.

The current sea walls have sunk as much as five feet since their construction in the late 1800s and are no longer an effective bulwark against tidal waves and storm surges. Tides submerge parts of the walls twice a day, the Park Service said.

“Despite various repairs over the decades, the sea walls are no longer structurally sound and threaten visitor safety and the historic setting, including the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin,” the Park Service said in a statement.

Blossom lovers still have one chance to experience the blooms in their full glory. Construction will not start until late May, after the conclusion of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from late March to mid-April.

The trees to be removed are only a small portion of the 3,800 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, a serene pool wedged between the National Mall and the Potomac River, and in the adjoining West Potomac Park. But one of the most famous trees will be among the casualties: Stumpy, a small, twisted cherry tree that went viral on social media in 2020. The tree, standing only a few feet from the crumbling sea wall, has survived for many years despite constant inundation from high tides and rainstorms.

Some Stumpy fans were already making pilgrimages on Wednesday after word spread of its impending demise. Wallace Boyd, an artist from the Washington suburb Silver Spring, Md., who goes by the name Mahet, recorded a video of Stumpy while he recited a poem dedicated to the tree.

The Park Service will take clippings from Stumpy to create a baby tree in the same location where the famous cherry tree now stands, said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the Park Service. The other trees removed for construction will not be so fortunate: They will be turned into mulch that can protect the roots of new trees.

The National Park Service decided against moving Stumpy, as the tree is unlikely to survive a measure that “inadvertently damages” its roots, Mr. Litterst said. Other, healthier cherry trees will not be moved because relocating them is very expensive, he added. All told, however, the Park Service plans to plant more than 270 new cherry trees once new sea walls are completed in 2027.

The cherry trees by the National Mall were first planted in the capital city as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. Most of the original trees have died out, since most cherry trees live less than 50 years. Mr. Litterst said it was unclear, but very unlikely, that any original trees remained among those to be removed.

The construction, which will cost $113 million over three years, will create a new structure that can last 100 years against rising sea levels from accelerating climate change, according to the Park Service. The trail around the Tidal Basin will largely remain open during construction.

The funding for the project comes from the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan law passed by Congress in 2020 that provided $9.5 billion to repair infrastructure in America’s nearly 430 national parks.

Kent Nishimura contributed reporting.

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