By COLBY DENTON
The 27th Annual Sandhill Crane Festival attracted people from all over to Birchwood’s Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge to see the migratory birds .Sponsored by the TWRA, this event has been held at the …
The 27th Annual Sandhill Crane Festival attracted people from all over to Birchwood’s Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge to see the migratory birds .
Sponsored by the TWRA, this event has been held at the Hiwassee Refuge since the cranes “chose” it many years ago.
“I want to see as many people as we can get to come out and see these beautiful cranes, but the cranes started coming here pretty much by happenstance,” said Don King, statewide TWRA chief of Information and Education Division. “The cranes spotted this place. They obviously liked it and started using it.”
TWRA Region 3 Wildlife Information Specialist Mime Barnes also works as the coordinator for the crane festival.
“If people have never seen sandhill cranes, or seen them en masse, and they are a nature lover, they will have a blast!” Barnes said. “We hope this event brings people in to see the authentic people of the area and just how beautiful this area is as well.”
Barnes explained their last aerial survey showed at least 26,000 birds, which isn’t even the entirety of the population; it is simply the amount in Birchwood.
Numerous local vendors worked the event, selling everything from art and carvings to photography and homemade honey.
“We’ve got several vendors here selling art and their different wares, but we also have numerous organizations here to educate people like the TVA and Cleveland State. If people have wildlife questions, we definitely encourage them to stop in and talk to our experts. We also have live entertainment and a speaker speaking on wildlife management that goes far beyond Tennessee’s borders,” Barnes said.
Charles Howard worked the Cleveland State table, representing the student chapter of the Wildlife Society.
“The Wildlife Society does a lot of volunteer work with TWRA and the forest service. We do everything from treating hemlock trees for the hemlock wooly adelgid pest to banding wild birds,” Howard said. “All of the proceeds from the items like T-shirts we sell go to the Wildlife Society. That allows us to put it back into our organization so we can continue working in nature.”
Howard also described the perks of joining the Wildlife Society.
“We do lots of hands-on work. We also attend our annual Conclave competition, which pits us against other schools in nature-related events. Some of the events can be tree identification, scavenger hunts to test tracking skills and even an obstacle course.”
While the average temperature during the festival was 27 degrees, the cranes, which migrate from Canada around the Great Lakes, went about their day as if the cold was simply a mild respite.
The Sandhill Crane Festival runs through today at the Birchwood Community Center. Buses shuttle guests between three different locations — the community center, with all of its vendors; the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, where people can view the cranes; and the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, where a sampling of history can be found.
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