Washington’s cherry blossom season has gone well this year, as warm spring weather has perfectly coincided with the blooming season that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each spring.
But officials are claiming that Washington’s iconic cherry blossom trees are under a looming threat that requires emergency action.
Decades of wear and tear from foot traffic, combined with rising sea levels and a deteriorating sea wall, have created a chronic flooding problem in the Tidal Basin–the manmade 107-acre reservoir that borders the Jefferson Memorial and is home to the highest concentration of cherry blossom trees.
Now the National Park Service, along with the Trust for the National Mall, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is launching a campaign to save the Tidal Basin.
In addition to rebuilding the battered sea wall and addressing the flooding problem, the groups seek to improve walkways and update security systems.
Twice a day at high tide, a large stretch of the sidewalk next to the Jefferson Memorial is submerged by the rising waters.
During the heavy rains that routinely occur in Washington, the floodwaters completely overflow the sea wall in multiple locations and soak the tree roots.
Teresa Durkin, senior project director of the Trust for the National Mall, said the higher salt concentration of the floodwaters is shortening the lifespans of the hundreds of cherry blossom trees that ring the basin.
“It’s several and many factors all contributing to the failure right now but it’s something that’s happening now rather very urgently and we need to, we need to address it now,” Durkin said.
Early estimates are that the rehabilitation project would require as much as $500 million, with organizers seeking a combination of government funding and private donations.
The organizations are partnering with American Express, which is funding the creation of the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab and inviting architectural and landscape design firms to submit proposals for replacing the sea wall and refurbishing and modernizing the entire area.
Sean Kennealy, the chief of professional services for the National Park Service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks division, said the original 1880s design of the Tidal Basin simply wasn’t equipped to handle the kinds of crowds and traffic the area now receives.
That traffic has only increased as more monuments have been added to the Tidal Basin area over the years.
Even without the worsening flooding problem, Kenneally said the entire network of sidewalks and pathways needs to be expanded to accommodate the modern visitor numbers.
“This area just can’t accommodate the millions of visitors that we have,” Kennealy said.
This story originally appeared in Associated Press.