Cherry Blossom Festival has a beer theme for 2014

Cherry Blossom Festival has a beer theme for 2014

Cherry trees were in full bloom last Friday in front of Pawtucket City Hall. The Rhode Island Cherry Blossom Festival returns this weekend. (Valley Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET - The Rhode Island Cherry Blossom Festival will shift its focus north to Woonsocket this year, while maintaining its base in the city where it was born.

Like all those before it, the sixth festival this weekend, May 3-4, will have its own unique themes while keeping its central reason for existing, said Bob Billington, director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, which is to fund the planting and upkeep of cherry trees along Roosevelt Avenue in Pawtucket and Central Falls.

This year, "Sunday is Pawtucket's day," said Billington, with the popular Navigant Credit Union Running Festival returning to Roosevelt Avenue. Organizers have added a beer garden and entertainment center at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center on Main Street, sponsored by the Bucket Brewery and Narragansett Beer, that is designed to offer a post-race spot for more than 1,000 runners to "sit down, chat, and share a beer" instead of just heading home.

Also this weekend, volunteers will be planting seven more cherry trees along Roosevelt Avenue toward the Pawtucket River Bridge, said Billington, adding to the more than 200 trees that have been planted since the start of the festival.

This Saturday, "we've put a lot of our attention in Woonsocket," said Billington. The city's downtown will be targeted by volunteers for an extensive cleanup and beautification effort by volunteers with Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful, the daughter organization of Keep America Beautiful.

Anheuser-Busch, which maintains an affiliation with Keep America Beautiful, will have a tent with its "Do Good Have Fun - Bud Light" campaign.

There will also be food trucks, vendors and plenty of music in Woonsocket's downtown, he said. Bud Light will also sponsor the planting of a few cherry trees near the old depot in Woonsocket, said Billington, replacing previously planted ones that have died.

"Green Up Woonsocket," based at One Depot Square, will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., while the Woonsocket "Cherry Blossom Celebration" will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at River Island Park.

The Navigant Credit Union Running Festival on Sunday in Pawtucket will kick off with the Navigant Blackstone Valley Half Marathon at 8 a.m., followed by a 5K at 11 a.m. A youth run will start at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit .

Billington said he doesn't expect any of the cherry blossoms that have been blooming for the past few weeks along Roosevelt Avenue will still be on the trees by the time the festival starts on Saturday. But volunteers will be putting up the recognizable fake cherry blossoms and ribbons as replacements.

The cherry trees this year "looked absolutely magnificent," said Billington, and offered a perfect illustration of why founders of the festival originally wanted so badly to launch the annual plantings.

New cherry trees are expensive, said Billington, and so is maintaining them, especially as more are added each year. Organizers have to focus on events that will bring in maximum revenue for the effort, he said, as volunteers do all the maintaining of trees.

Planning the festival for when the trees bloom remains an inexact science, said Billington, as the blooming of the trees is unpredictable from year to year.

This year's Cherry Blossom Festival Princess, Kim Kalunian of WPRO, is a "great one," said Billington, as she's embraced the role like few others before her. This is the first year under the State Society of Rhode Island, which has helped get young people involved in the festival and gave Kalunian the chance be welcomed into national Cherry Blossom Festival activities in Washington, D.C.

Kalunian will be present throughout the Rhode Island Cherry Blossom Festival, both at Pawtucket and Woonsocket events.

Billington said the plan is for the Cherry Blossom Festival to keep changing and adapting in the future, hopefully including other Rhode Island cities and towns.

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With the Slater Mill in the background, cherry blossoms reflect the sun last Friday. All the blossoms on Roosevelt Avenue are expected to fall by the start of the Rhode Island Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday.