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Cherry blossom bloom will make it 'impossible' to maintain proper distance

Tuesday, April 14th 2020, 6:24 pm - Toronto’s Sakura Cherry Blossoms are almost in bloom and some are worried crowds will still flock to High Park, even during the pandemic.

Every year hundreds of people flock to Toronto’s High Park to get a glimpse of the fleeting moments when the Sakura Cherry Blossoms are in bloom. Every year that narrow window changes and, if you blink, you could miss them.

That’s why Steven Joniak took it upon himself to document the bloom cycle of the trees. He started posting about them back in 2012.

“I used to live a block [away] from High Park … one year I just happened to be going for a bike ride to the park and then I saw the cherry blossoms in bloom and I was just so, totally amazed. I've never seen anything like that before,” Joniak told The Weather Network.

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“When I came back a few days later I saw that all the petals were falling and the trees were gone. I was like ‘oh, that was pretty quick.’”

The following year Joniak returned to the park around the same time, but noticed the trees were green already.

Unemployed at the time, Joniak said it dawned on him then that he could put his skills as a photographer and designer to work and turn the Sakura Cherry Blossom bloom into a passion project.

He based everything off his own experience and did some research online, ultimately creating Sakura Watch.

“The first year I had a fairly good response,” Joniak said. “[By] the third year I started seeing my numbers really start to grow significantly in terms of volume coming to the site. People being curious. The Facebook group just blew up and I started expanding to other social media sites.”

Normally Joniak posts to encourage people to come out to see the beauty. But this year he put the alerts on pause citing a moral responsibility to the public.

“From all the events in the city, the cherry blossoms are probably one of the best examples of overcrowding and large gatherings. Having to close the park might be essential for the sake of just helping prevent people from gathering,” he said.

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“As much as people would like to have it open, just the vast amount of people it would be impossible for people to maintain a proper distance of two metres apart.”

A message on the Sakura Watch site reads, “Sakura Watch will be pausing updates to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

“I realize that my efforts as much as I know people appreciate it, as much as I love doing it, it would just might incite or invite people to go to the parks. Try to go and visit the blossoms when they should be staying away, staying home,” said Joniak.

Other groups are also advising that they will not be posting regarding the bloom.

For now city parks remain open, however, the amenities are closed and those who are in the park are not allowed to congregate in groups.

“In the interest of safety, in the interest of trying to help us all beat COVID-19 and try to get the numbers down as quickly as possible, I felt that instead of trying to remind people that the blossoms are up to try and stand back and say ‘okay, we're going to take a pause’ and hopefully when this passes will have a chance to get out and enjoy the park as we used to,” Joniak said.

He wants people to know he will still be posting videos and photos of the blossoms from his archives.

“The cherry blossoms will be around next year and the year after that and the year after that. There will be plenty of other opportunities to go enjoy them.”

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