The Tree That Changed a City 6,948 Miles Away
March 23, 2018
For 36 years Macon has been celebrating the Yoshino cherry tree in its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. For ten days during the month of March, the city comes to life in vibrant hues of pink as a celebration of Spring unfolds.
But, why? How can one tree become so important to a community in a city it is not native to? Here ‘s why the “pinkest party on earth” is essential to the identity and history of Macon and how it makes an international impact year after year.
Where did the trees come from?
The name associated with it all is William A. Fickling, Sr. . The Macon realtor discovered a Yoshino cherry tree in his backyard in 1949. Uncertain of this rare and obscure blooming tree in the South, Fickling was unable to identify what was growing behind his house.
In 1952, Fickling came face to bloom with the Yoshinos located around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. while on a business trip. He was able to then identify this tree through a clipping he brought on a return trip to the nation’s capital.
As its name may hint, the Yoshino cherry tree is native to Japan and was first introduced to America in 1902.
Throughout the years Fickling would come to know Macon resident and founder of the Cherry Blossom Festival, Carolyn Crayton. According to local history, Crayton fell in love with the trees’ beauty.
“I shared with (Fickling) a dream of mine, one where the entire town was bursting with thousands of graceful pink cherry trees. I asked if he would donate trees to plant in my neighborhood of Wesleyan Woods, and he generously agreed, helping my dream become a reality,” Crayton said.
On Nov. 24, 1973 the first 500 cherry trees were planted on Wesleyan Woods, Guerry Drive and Oxford Place. In total the Fickling family has donated 6,500 trees through the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission.
Why do we do it?
Today there are over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees in the city. Macon is referred to by Congressional Records as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World for this reason.
In 1982 the festival blossomed under the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission with the principles of love, beauty and international friendship. What began as a three-day festival now is celebrated during the course of ten days with hundreds of local events taking place.
The mission of the Cherry Blossom Festival is to “enhance the quality of life, community fellowship, and civic pride of all Macon and Middle Georgia residents through the encouragement, development, and coordination of selected recreational, cultural and social activities.” The organization also wants to extend that community fellowship and civic pride with visitors of the festival.
What is the economic impact?
Macon’s International Cherry Blossom Festival is ranked among the top 20 events in the South, top 50 events in the U.S. and top 100 events in North America. The festival is planned with over 100 events taking place. Eighty percent of them are free to the public.
“The economic impact study in 2008 showed over a 10-million-dollar impact. The 2018 festival programming is on par with the numbers from that year,” said festival president and CEO, Stacy Moore.
According to the festival, the organizational breakdown is as follows: 34 percent revenue comes from sponsors; 42 percent from event ticket sales; and 24 percent of annual revenue comes from the hotel motel tax (seven percent of what is collected monthly- the remaining amount is divided between six other tourism-based organizations). Sixty-two percent of the money raised goes toward programming and 100 percent of the hotel motel tax goes towards putting on free programs.
“After winning 19 International Festival and Events Association awards, we are excited to see what that means for tourism in our region. We hope to play a vital role in assisting the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority with corporate development and recruitment,” Moore said.