Cherry Blossoms Face a Threat Worse Than Wild Weather

Crumbling seawalls highlight need to fund overdue national park repairs

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossom trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin in Washington. Frequent flooding linked to aging infrastructure is threatening some of the trees.

© National Park Service

One of Washington’s biggest tourist draws, the famous cherry trees, faces a bigger threat than the unusual temperature swings that stunted this year’s bloom. The Potomac River, which runs adjacent to many of the trees from the capital’s Tidal Basin to Hains Point, is running over failing seawalls almost daily and threatening to rot the trees’ roots.

The flooding has become so bad that the National Park Service, which manages the cherry trees, the surrounding land, and the seawalls, built a temporary path by the Jefferson Memorial to help visitors stay dry. But the trees still feel the impact.

Tidal basin flooding

Flooding near the Jefferson Memorial blocks a walkway and often soaks the cherry tree roots, causing damage.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Repairing the seawalls would cost $512.3 million—a hefty sum by any measure, but a particularly daunting price tag for an agency with a $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance across all 417 national park sites. These issues range from crumbling roads, rotting historic buildings, and blocked trails to deteriorating memorials and outdated water, sewer, and electrical systems. 

To resolve this problem, Congress should provide dedicated annual federal funding for national park repairs and ensure that infrastructure initiatives include provisions to address park maintenance. Policymakers should also direct more highway funding to maintenance of park roads, bridges, and tunnels and create more opportunities for public-private collaboration and donations to support park maintenance needs.   

In the nation’s capital, the seawalls are sinking and the concrete is crumbling—issues that are visible to anyone walking along some of the sidewalks that hug the Potomac’s banks. In some places, the paths reveal the rebar that once held together missing pieces of concrete.

Flooded footpath

The National Park Service created a temporary path to help visitors avoid the rising water, but the cherry tree roots still feel the flooding impact.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

If Congress takes action, the Park Service can fix these problems and save Washington’s cherry trees, which arrived in 1912 as a gift to the U.S. from the people of Japan. Otherwise the blossoms could become another casualty of the Park Service’s wait for adequate funding for infrastructure repairs. Our famous cherry trees: another reason to #FixOurParks.

National Homeownership Month

Article

Fix Our National Parks

Treasured sites with high natural, historical, and cultural value face $12 billion in infrastructure repairs

Quick View
Article

By almost any measure, the celebration and recognition of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary last year was a success. More than 300 million visitors experienced at least one of the 400-plus NPS sites during the centennial year, including President Barack Obama and his family, Oprah Winfrey, and other luminaries, along with the millions of less well-known Americans, many of whom were drawn by the agency’s call to #FindYourPark.

Video

National Parks Deteriorating—It's Time to Show Some Love

Quick View
Video

For hundreds of years, Valentine's Day has been a time to show people you care about how much you love them.

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.