WASHINGTON — Despite the long, snowy winter in the Mid-Atlantic region, Washington's famous cherry blossom trees are expected to bring the first sure sign of spring between April 8-12, when they're predicted to reach peak bloom, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

The weather in March will be the most critical factor for the trees' blooming period, said James Perry, chief of resource management for the National Park Service.

"Relax and let Mother Nature take her course," he said. "This has not been the coldest winter on record or the snowiest. These trees have been around for 102 years, so we know pretty well how they're going to react."

About 70 percent of the trees around the Tidal Basin must be in bloom for the park service to declare peak bloom. Tree workers will be looking for the first sign of green buds, monitoring the weather forecast and searching historical records to help update Perry's prediction, he said.

"The colder it is, the slower the process will be," he said. But there hasn't been any significant damage from the recent snow and ice, he said.

"The buds are naturally protected within the trees during the winter," Perry said. "That's a dormant phase for the development of the trees."

Perry made the bloom prediction as organizers announced plans Tuesday for this year's National Cherry Blossom Festival. It's scheduled to run from March 20-April 13 with events celebrating the trees and Japanese culture.

This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossom trees from Japan as a symbol of friendship with the United States.

This year's festival also includes a fitness theme with activities planned around the city's monuments.

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