The threat of the growing coronavirus pandemic kept some would-be visitors to the Kenwood cherry blossoms away from the Bethesda neighborhood last weekend. But area residents say streets were still packed, causing police to block off some areas.
Kenwood’s roughly 1,200 Yoshino cherry trees, which bloom around this time of year, normally draw thousands of visitors on some days. The Kenwood blossoms are often seen as an alternative to the more-crowded cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., near the Tidal Basin.
Photos by Dan Schere
The spread of the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has led Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and jurisdictions around the country to enact orders limiting crowd sizes to slow the spread of the virus. Hogan on March 19 ordered that crowds of more than 10 were prohibited across the state.
Last weekend, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had to call on the National Guard and the District’s police force to restrict access to the Tidal Basin and the National Mall in response to large crowds near the cherry blossoms.
In Kenwood, Montgomery County police were called to the scene of a “large crowd” that formed in the area of Brookside Drive and River Road around 1:56 p.m. Saturday, Officer Rick Goodale, a police spokesman, told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday.
Goodale said that once officers arrived, the crowd dispersed without any commands being given.
“We didn’t have to take any enforcement action. If we get out there and there’s nothing going on, there’s nothing for us to do,” he said.
Goodale said he thinks the call was from a neighbor who complained about the crowd size.
The goal of the governor’s order, Goodale said, isn’t to make arrests, but to educate the public about the importance of social distancing – staying six feet from other people.
“If we get calls that people are violating social distancing …. we’re trying to educate people on the importance of distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 .… So far, we haven’t had to take any enforcement action,” he said.
Maryland State Police were also called to the scene on Saturday, spokesman Greg Shipley said. Shipley said the call was in response to a group of about 100 people that had gathered in the area to look at the cherry blossoms. Montgomery County police arrived first and handled the call.
Although authorities made no arrests last weekend, officers still patrolled the area and blocked off some streets, said Irene and Bruce Klores, who have lived on Kenwood Avenue for 20 years.
“Over the years, they’ve tried to move the traffic around,” Irene Klores said of the police, “so that’s nothing new. But this year, they definitely blocked off areas so that there would be less congestion. We’re on a corner lot, and this is the first time they had no parking signs on both sides of the street. They were trying to discourage as many people coming in and parking.”
Bruce Klores said there were hundreds of people in the neighborhood last weekend, with some gathering in the streets in groups of 10 to 20.
But the numbers paled in comparison to other years, when “every house with kids has a lemonade stand set up. There’s buses with senior citizens and they tour. It’s a huge thing,” he said.
The neighborhood’s streets were quiet Tuesday afternoon, with a walker or jogger appearing every few minutes.
Andrew Gordon, who was out for a walk with his dog, said he lives in New York City now, but is staying with his mother in Bethesda to avoid New York’s severe COVID-19 outbreak.
Sunday was a busy day in Kenwood, he said, but not to the point where he felt unsafe.
“There were a lot of people out, but people seemed to be keeping their distance,” he said.
Drew Lehmann, a Bethesda resident, said there were hundreds of people in Kenwood when he was there on Sunday.
“There were people up and down the streets, so traffic couldn’t get by. It was mostly young parents with their kids and strollers and everything,” he said.
Lehmann said he saw police vehicles patrolling the area on Sunday. The sunny weather on Sunday, he said, was probably a factor in the large turnout.
Lehmann said he hadn’t seen Kenwood’s blossoms before last weekend. But anecdotes he heard from other local residents made it clear that attendance was down due to the virus.
“I talked to people that have lived here since the mid-’80s and they were like, ‘Yeah, usually there’s lemonade stands and tons more people.’ I think people are kind of scared because of the virus and everything,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at email@example.com