Perfect weather, fireworks draw huge crowd for Cherry Blossom finale

pramati@macon.comMarch 25, 2012 

After two straight years of having the weather affect the closing weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival, officials were delighted Sunday by sunny skies and a 75 degree weather for the festival’s Grand Finale at Wesleyan College.

With live music by the Crankin’ Daddies Band, lots of food, bouncy castles for the kids and a fireworks show at nightfall, the atmosphere was pretty much perfect for the final event of what officials were calling one of the best festivals in recent memory.

“It’s been a fantastic festival,” said Thomas Wicker, chairman of the Cherry Blossom Festival board of directors. “Thank goodness the weather has been cooperative. Anytime you have something in March, you never know (about the weather). We’re pleased with the number of people who came out for it.”

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert agreed.

“I think it has to be one of the best (festivals) ever,” he said. “The cherry blossoms bloomed right on time, the weather was perfect. Everything turned out well. The parade was one of the best-attended I’ve ever seen.”

In addition to visitors from Hawaii, Iowa, New Jersey and other states, president and CEO Karen Lambert said people from several different countries came to Macon during the 10-day event, including Cuba, Canada, Great Britain, Taiwan, Japan, Israel, Austria, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

For Lambert, it was a bittersweet moment Sunday to be at the Grand Finale -- her final official event as head of the festival before taking over the Peyton Anderson Foundation in June.

“I feel very happy about the beautiful weather and cherry blossoms,” she said. “It’s so unusual for the blossoms to last throughout the entire festival. The weather was almost perfect. I’m going to miss a lot of the excitement, but otherwise, I’m going to sit back and enjoy it.”

Though it will be weeks before final numbers are tallied, officials said attendance has been strong during the course of the festival. Lambert noted that an estimated 12,000 showed up for the March 18 parade, one of the largest turnouts in festival history.

Wicker said the next challenge for the board is to find a successor for Lambert as well as marketing director Stacy Campbell, who will be moving on from the festival to become president and CEO of the Perry Chamber of Commerce.

Wicker said the board already has started advertising for a new president and CEO and has hired a firm to conduct a search.

“We’ve already had a meeting and have a timeline to hire a new person,” Wicker said. “We want to have a new person in place by mid-June. We’re excited for Karen and her new position. ... She was a fantastic CEO who brought a lot of energy and new ideas. She’ll be missed.”

Wicker said the board hasn’t had the opportunity to meet yet about filling Campbell’s position, but said they may wait until Lambert’s job is filled.

Several hundred people took advantage of the weather Sunday to spread their picnic blankets out on the grounds at Wesleyan to enjoy the live music and await the fireworks. Corey and Jenn Cargle of Macon brought their children Madison, 6, and Logan, 4, to the event after spending much of the day downtown.

“We’re here to have a good time with the family,” Corey Cargle said. “There’s good music, good food. We want to see some fireworks.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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