T HE ESSEX COUNTY CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL is an annual event held every April in Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ. Come spring, this is one of the most beautiful natural attractions in the NYC metro area and a delight for all nature lovers and photographers! I have attended numerous Cherry Blossom Festivals and heartily recommend it is a must-see event.
Are the Cherry Blossoms in Bloom Now?
See for yourself! Check the live Branch Brook Park Cherry Blossom Webcam (link). You will see a live view of the cherry blossom trees in the parking lot of the Cherry Blossom Center Welcome Center in Branch Brook Park. You may need to reload the webcam web page a few times to see the live view as it shows a blank image when there are too many visitors. Bloom season started a bit late this year. As of April 21, 2018 they are nearing peak bloom (photo below is from April 21, 2018)!
The 2018 Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ features the largest display of cherry blossom trees in the United States.
A list of the events scheduled during this celebration is listed below. Photos I have taken are featured on this page along with my top cherry blossom photography tips.
Bloomfest | Sunday, April 15th 11am – 5pm
The festive highlight of the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival is a day of live performances and attractions in Branch Brook Park. Bloomfest will be held in Essex County Branch Brook Park, Cherry Blossom Welcome Center Extension, Belleville/Newark. Bloomfest attracts over 7,000 attendees from New Jersey and surrounding metropolitan areas for stage performances, cultural demonstrations, and children’s activities.
The Bloomfest marketplace features crafters and artists selling handmade, cherry blossom themed crafts and products. Bloomfest is held rain or shine. This years’ Bloomfest will feature a packed schedule of events includes the always popular Japanese cultural demonstrations, children’s activities, live music, a crafter’s marketplace, food, and more!
Events are held at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center and the Prudential Concert Grove.
Cherry Blossom 10K Run | Sunday, April 8th 10am – 12pm
The Cherry Blossom 10K Run begins at The Cherry Blossom Visitor’s Center (Mill Street Entrance, Belleville) with an 8 AM Registration. Enjoy a scenic run through the historic cherry tree groves of Branch Brook Park in this USATF-sanctioned race! The first 500 registrants receive a commemorative Cherry Blossom 10K Run long-sleeved T-shirt. A commemorative fleece jacket is awarded to the top three finishers in each age category. A portion of the race proceeds benefits the Special Olympics. A special Disabled Run starts at 10:00 am. Everyone is invited to Branch Brook Park to witness this exciting race!
Children’s Fun Run/Walk | Saturday, April 14th 10am – 11am
The Children’s One-Mile Fun Run/Walk begins in the Southern Division of Branch Brook Park at 10 AM. All participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt and an award at the completion of the race. More than 1,000 children aged 6 through 14 ran through Branch Brook Park in 2017 to celebrate the blooming of the historic cherry tree groves. Many stayed for the afternoon Family Day event activities held directly after in the Prudential Concert Grove section of Branch Brook Park.
Cherry Blossom Challenge Bike Race | Saturday, April 7th 7am – 1pm
This exciting bike race takes place on Saturday on the Branch Brook Park Northern Division Oval. The first race begins at 7 AM, and the last at 12 noon. Various races occur throughout the morning. Winners are awarded cash prizes! Come cheer on the fast-moving cyclists while enjoying a day in the park. Free to watch!
Family Fun Day | Saturday, April 14th 11am – 3pm
Family Fun Day is held on Saturday in Essex County Branch Brook Park, Concert Grove, Southern Division, Park Street Entrance, Newark. This is a free family event! Enjoy an afternoon of live performances, family activities and food vendors. The performance schedule of confirmed acts includes the following:
Hula hooping, paddle boat rides and face painting. Meals and snacks will be offered by a variety of food vendors. Other family activities include a fishing derby, award ceremony and main stage entertainment.
Guided Historic Park Tours:
Tours will provide a 45-minute guided tour of Essex County Branch Brook Park. The cost is $5 per person, and reservations are required. Knowledgeable tour guides take you on a scenic 45-minute journey, pointing out 120-years of history hidden within Branch Brook Park’s structure and design, under a canopy of beautiful cherry blossoms! Tours leave from the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center daily at 11 am, 12noon, 1 pm, and 2 pm. Transportation around the park is provided.
Come See the Cherry Blossoms!
Of course, the star attraction of this event will always be the beautifully adorned cherry blossom trees. Japanese cherry blossoms predominate among the more than 4000 cherry blossom trees in the park. Their large white blossoms put on quite a show and are the most prominent feature of the bloom season. However, the addition of flowering Yoshino, Higan and Fuji cherries add blooms that range from pink to white in color. This variety also extends the blooming season to two weeks or more.
Thousands of visitors, both local and international, converge on the park every April to see the first reddish-white flowers bloom on the trees. The celebration of the start of the cherry blossom bloom season has been a longstanding Essex County tradition. The festival is a point of pride for Belleville, which identifies itself as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of America.” Cherry blossoms are a wonderful testimony to our loving Creator, who has made all things on earth for our benefit and endless delight.
Want to capture your best photos ever at the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival? Read my special photography tips for Branch Brook Park below:
Cherry Blossom Photography Tips
The Annual Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival offers a cornucopia of natural delights for visitors of all ages and cultures. And, many of those folks bring cameras to photograph family portraits and scenic images during the three week spring cherry blossom bloom season. Here are my top five cherry blossom photography tips for getting the best scenic images and bloom close-up photos during the spring season. These tips were created with the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park, Essex County (Newark), New Jersey in mind. All of the cherry blossom photos on my web site were photographed in Branch Brook Park.
Cherry Blossom Photography Tip #1. Shoot In The Best Light
Most of us prefer to be out among the cherry blossom trees on a bright sunny day, with nary a cloud in the sky. However, bright cloudless days, with direct overhead sun, generally do not offer optimum conditions for cherry blossom photography. Sunlight, especially during midday, can be quite harsh, creating strong black shadows and lots of glare. If you want to photograph cherry blossom trees on a sunny day, shoot early in the day, well before noon, and in the late afternoon, after 3pm. The sun will be lower on the horizon, casting warmer, more diffused light with softer shadows and less glare. This tip will also give you the most pleasing results for portraits and family photos.
If you get a light, misty rain while the blooms are in peak season (or even a bit of fog), run, don’t walk to the park! The softer light just after a gentle rain offers moody, evocative settings for close-up photos of cherry blossoms. Your photos will have a softer, gentler mood, and the blooms will be more photogenic than ever.
Ideally, sunny days with powder blue skies and fair weather cumulus clouds are a great combination for cherry blossom photography. Powder blue skies look very appealing as a background for cherry blossoms, and the puffy cotton-ball like clouds act as giant reflectors, softening the sunlight’s glare and reducing harsh shadows. These are also great conditions for family photos, which brings me to my next tip.
Cherry Blossom Photography Tip #2. Bring a white or gold diffuser to soften light for portraits.
A white or gold diffuser can make subtle but meaningful improvements in outdoor portraits of friends and family and cherry blossom close-up photos. They soften sunlight illuminating your subject, whether that is a child’s face or a pleasing cluster of blooms. They can remove harsh shadows from direct sunlight, making for more flattering portraits. A gold colored diffuser also adds a touch of warmth to your portraits. They are available at most camera shops. Simply hold it so that it filters the light between the sun and your subject. This is the single item I would recommend purchasing in addition to your camera that will truly improve your outdoor family photos. They typically cost about $10 to $25, and can be purchased at better camera stores like Adorama. Here is a post from photographer Bryan Peterson (no relation) showing how to use a reflector.
Cherry Blossom Photography Tip #3. Shoot During The Week
The weekends during cherry blossom season in Branch Brook Park are crowded and busy. It will be difficult to capture a photo that does not contain rows of parked cars, scores of visitors, and other signs of civilization. However, during the week, the park can be blissfully quiet, allowing for photos that show the cherry blossoms at their best. It’s also a great way to create un-rushed family photos. If you must shoot on the weekend, the early mornings are generally the quietest (unless there is an event planned).
Cherry Blossom Photography Tip #4. Coping With the Wind
On early spring days, cherry blossoms seem to be in constant motion. The breezes can seem unending when you’re trying to capture detailed, sharp images of cherry blossom blooms. Sometimes you can wait for the wind to die down, at other times the breezes are constant. If you have limited time for shooting, try this. Shoot three images of the same scene or more, and choose the one that has the least amount of blur caused by blowing winds. Digital photography allows you to cheaply shoot multiple images of the same subject. So if you see a scene that you really want to capture, wait until the winds subside a bit, and shoot it multiple times. Chances are that one of those shots will come out just about perfect. If you are shooting a late model DSLR camera, go to a higher ISO setting (400-800 ISO) to get a higher shutter speed. The faster shutter speed is more likely to freeze motion.
Cherry Blossom Photography Tip #5. See With Your Lens
When taking cherry blossom close-up photos, you need to see what your camera lens sees, not your unaided eye. For example, the lens may blur the background in closeup images at wider apertures in a way that your eye cannot. Or it may distort the image in an unusual way. Judge and compose your photo based upon what you see in your viewfinder. Exploit the characteristics of your lens for better photos. The image at the top of this page (Cherry Blossom Dreams) is a good example. My unaided eye would see everything in sharp focus in both the foreground and background. However, my camera lens, at its widest apertures, fully blurred the distant background in this photo, creating this beautiful wallpaper-like effect. I composed this shot to take advantage of how the lens saw the scene.
That’s it! These tips can be used with just about any camera, and should help you to to create memorable photos at this year’s Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park. Hope to see you there! —Photos by [email protected]
Discover the proud history of Branch Brook Park and its world famous cherry blossom trees:
About Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ
Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey has the distinction of being the first county park opened for public use in the United States. It covers an area nearly 4 miles long and averages 1/4 mile in width. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest developed park in Essex County, New Jersey. Its gently rolling terrain 1s adorned by a combination of open meadowland and small patches of woodland.
Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ is noted for the largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the United States, having over 4,300 in more than fourteen different varieties.
The more than 4,000 cherry trees that blossom in Branch Brook Park come April are greater both in variety and number than the famed Washington, D.C., display–the result of a 1927 gift from the Bamberger and Mrs. Felix Fuld family. At its height, the Cherry Blossom Festival attracts an international group of visitors that number over 10,000 people a day.
A Brief History of Branch Brook Park
In 1895, the same year the New Jersey State Legislature authorized the creation of the Essex County Park Commission, a former Civil War Army training ground was dedicated to “park use.” A large part of the land was a dismal marsh known as Old Blue Jay Swamp. To add to the dismal air of the swamp, bleak, unhealthy tenements crowded in on parts of the area. The swamp water was used for both drinking and sewage disposal. In sharp contrast, the southern portion of the proposed park contained a circular reservoir basin that supplied clean, fresh water to a “private” association of Newark citizens.
The Old Blue Jay Swamp Becomes Branch Brook Park
In July of 1895, the City of Newark transferred approximately 60 acres of this land to the Essex County Park Commission, at a cost of $350,687. “Reservoir Park” became the nucleus of Branch Brook Park. Additional acquisitions extending the park northward were aided by the generosity of “several public spirited Newark families,” such as the Ballantine Family who donated 32 acres of their property. Another 50 plus acres were given by Z.M. Keene, William A. Righter, and Messrs. Heller. The Park doubled in size through acquisitions and purchases between 1924 and 1929. Branch Brook Park, the first county park in the United States became one of The largest “city” parks in the country.
Improvements & Further Developments
The public contributed in 1898 by voting a 1.5 million dollar appropriation for the continuation of construction work began in 1895. Old Blue Jay Swamp was transformed into a lake, flower gardens, and expanses of lawns by 1900. The firm of John Bogart and Nathan F. Barrett had been hired in 1895, to provide plans and advice for the development of the park. Their design was romantic in style and was dominated by geometrically patterned gardens and arbors. In 1898, Robert Ballantine presented the park with a handsome beaux-arts entrance gateway erected at the corner of Lake Street and Ballantine Parkway.
In 1900, the cornerstone for Sacred Heart Cathedral was laid and in the same year, the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted was retained to revise the original plans for the park. It was refined into more naturalistic lines with gracefully curving paths and roadways. One of the outstanding aspects of the design was the concert area in the southern portion bordering Branch Brook Lake. Directly across the lake on a projection of land known as Meeker Mound, the Olmsted firm built an octagonal gazebo. The present greenhouse was constructed in 1910.
A proposal for the erection of a new administration building was approved in 1914 when the N.J. Legislature passed a bill that included the necessary $100,000. The exterior was described as Italian in character with brick and terra cotta, and paintings just under the eaves of the tile roof. The architect was Harold Van Buren Magonigle from New York. In the 1920’s Harmon Hendricks presented the Park Commission a gift of 20 acres of land which extended the park northward into Belleville and was eventually made into an 18-hole golf course.
During WWI and WW2 the park was used as a tent city for the Army where they held training exercises and recruited volunteers from the area. Once it was a landing site for the US Postal Service. Bi-winged airplanes carrying mail landed on a short field within the park where bails of hay rimmed the end of the runway to prevent accidents. The old Morris Canal that ran alongside the Park, from Newark to the Delaware River, was abandoned and became the Newark subway. The subway became an important linkage to the Park.
A Year-Round Attraction
While Branch Brook Park is best known for its cherry blossom trees, it also serves as a delightful respite for the residents of Newark. It offers a wonderful display of autumn colors annually, and its sports facilities are well used by the surrounding communities.