One week after the nation's capital experienced some of the worst flooding in more than a century, museums and other attractions are open and some of the largest outdoor events of the year are being held as scheduled. But officials are warning visitors to be prepared for the summer's heat and high humidity levels.
On the National Mall, the 40th annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival opened Friday with 80,000 people strolling among the tents, exhibit booths and stages. Even larger crowds were expected throughout the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday, July 4, Independence Day.
The sodded green, flanked by some of the nation's most important monuments and museums will also attract as many as 500,000 people Tuesday evening for the annual Capitol Fourth concert and fireworks display over the Washington Monument.
The National Symphony Orchestra, actor Jason Alexander, actress-singer, Vanessa Williams, and country singer Jo Dee Messina are expected to perform, on a stage near the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, before tens of thousands of families sprawled out on blankets and sitting in lawn chairs. The concert and fireworks will be aired live on PBS Tuesday night.
"We've dried out very nicely, and I have not seen any mud or anything, so we're good," said Becky Haberacker, a Smithsonian spokeswoman. Last Sunday, much of the National-Capital region received a foot of rain or more, in less than 24 hours, but much of the damage had been cleaned up by week's end.
For the first time in the folklife festival's history, a Canadian province is serving as one of the central themes for the cultural and entertainment event. About 150 craft artisans, musicians, interpretive storytellers and dancers from throughout western Canada's Alberta province marked July 1, Canada Day, commemorating 139 years of Canadian independence from Great Britain, by entertaining the crowds on the mall on Saturday.
As a Rocky Mountain province, Alberta was settled by French from the colonial period, Chinese railroad workers, and later, Ukrainians and other European immigrants who learned to adapt local ingredients like bison meat, lake trout and native berries to their traditional recipes.
"We're a lot like Montana, but we were settled a couple off decades later," said Gail Hall, 55, a chef from Edmondton, Alberta which celebrated its provincial centennial last year. The folklife festival is also saluting the music of New Orleans, the art of basket weaving and the Latin music of Chicago.
While the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History were closed most of last week, due primarily to power outages associated with the flooding, they reopened Friday and Saturday. Two other museums, the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art, held their grand reopening Saturday in the newly renovated Patent Office Building.
Every one of our museums is open this weekend, and there's even more to see," said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.
While the National Archives remains closed, officials will conduct a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the building. Plans call for soldiers recuperating from wounds suffered in Iraq at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to read the document as they did in 2005.
The annual Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue is also set for Tuesday. But with midday and afternoon temperatures expected to climb into the mid-90's over the next few days, officials are urging both tourists and local visitors to drink plenty of water and other nonalcoholic drinks.
"We'll have five advanced life support ambulance units on the mall," said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Etter said many of the calls for assistance they receive on the mall during the Independence Day holiday period are for children and elderly people who complaining of fatigue from walking around the monuments or dehydration.
The wet weather has not slowed what is shaping up to be a good summer for tourism in the National-Capital region. Hotel occupancy rates are approaching 89 percent, or nearly two percent ahead of last year.
"Mother Nature has blessed us with the clearing of weather," said Victoria Isley, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation. Isley added that July traditionally is a favorite time for area residents to host family and friends from out of town because so many events are tied to the holiday. "There's no place like Washington, on the Fourth of July," Isley said.