Cherry Blossom Festival events draw big crowds

It's back and better and more pink than ever.

That’s what the people said Saturday.

Yes, the 2009 Cherry Blossom Festival seems to be in full blossom.

Sunny, breezy weather ushered in the first weekend of the annual Macon festival — downtown, in the InTown hills, at Central City Park and Al Sihah Shrine Park in south Macon, and other venues across the city.

"This year, it is just so much larger and a lot more people," said Jo Ann Vaughn of Putnam County. "I’ve come to every single festival since it started (in 1982) and it’s just gotten so much bigger."

Vaughn said she and her husband started with the Cherry Blossom Bed Race at 1 p.m., and within two hours they had attended two more events and reached the vendor showcase at Central City Park.

"I love it," she said. "We come for the bed race. But I also like looking inside the buildings, the plant sales and just watching all the people."

The couple, Vaughn said, also hopes to find time to catch the "Kaleidoscope of Cultures" performance at Wesleyan College tonight at 7 p.m.; to grab a free scoop of Cherry ice cream at Third Street Park on Monday; and to take a lantern tour at the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds before the festival closes next weekend.

"I want to take in as much as I can," she said.

Festival early birds participated in a 5K and 15K race Saturday morning with routes in Macon neighborhoods, while others ate blush-colored flapjacks at the Pink Pancake Breakfast, a Cherry Blossom favorite hosted by the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department.

Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said the meal was well attended by people with "big appetites."

The first massive crowds of the day, however, were drawn, as Vaughn was, to the bed race, where eight themed teams of five people sprinted down the second block of Cherry Street, pushing "beds" or handmade carts.

Hundreds of spectators gathered for the street race, rooting on the teams, which were judged for being the fastest, funniest or most original, and the judges' choice.

"Some of the beds this year went absolutely above and beyond ... like the Georgia Children's Museum, which had a standing volcano with erupting dry ice," said Stacy Campbell, a festival official who organized the event.

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