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To prevent overcrowding, Descanso moves from festivals to seasonal calendar in 2018

To prevent overcrowding, Descanso moves from festivals to seasonal calendar in 2018
Annual festivals at Descanso Gardens like the Cherry Blossom Festival, seen here in 2016, have attracted so many visitors officials are piloting a monthly calendar in 2018 tied to more seasonal attractions. (Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)

There’s a lot to see and do at La Cañada’s Descanso Gardens, but in the coming year visitors may be surprised to discover a few things conspicuously absent.

Fan favorites like the annual Cherry Blossom and Rose festivals will segue from huge weekend events that drew more than 6,000 visitors in a single day into monthlong celebrations of seasonal blooms. For example, guided tours of the garden’s collection of cherry trees will be offered every weekend in March, while May will be the month for “celebrating the rose” through a number of discovery walks, crafts and musical performances.

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Executive Director Juliann Rooke said reformatting the calendar was an attempt to more evenly distribute traffic and build visitor interest throughout the year. In the past two years, officials have logged more than half a million visits to the garden, with foot traffic peaking during festivals.

During the 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival, cars trying to get into Descanso backed up all the way to the Glendale (2) Freeway. To help ease congestion in 2017, the festival was spread out across two weekends instead of one.

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“It was just as crazy,” Rooke said of this year’s turnout. “Our neighbors were not happy with those two weekends — it was still just too much.”

So officials asked themselves why they held festivals in the first place. The idea was initially to bring more attention to the garden, which Rooke said drew much smaller local crowds in decades prior.

Since then, the advent of social media has helped promote programs and give a wider audience a look at Descanso’s many features. Today, visitors are coming from a significantly larger geographical area.

The hope is spreading out celebrations across an entire month will help more people enjoy the botanical garden’s entire bloom calendar as it shifts from season to season while avoiding too-large crowds. It also helps avoid the disappointment that can arise when, say, the cherry blossoms themselves don’t coincide with the pre-scheduled festival.

“We want people to come all the time, not just on festival weekends,” Rooke said of the new calendar. “The beauty of this is we can focus on whatever’s blooming.”

For more information on events and programs, visit descansogardens.org.

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