Saturday, April 19, 2014 · 3:45 p.m.

Sandhill Crane Festival set for Jan. 19-20

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The Sandhill Crane Festival will be held Jan. 19-20 at the Hiwassee Refuge in the community of Birchwood. It is the 22nd anniversary of the event. (Photo: Contributed)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be among the organizations set to host the 2013 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival, which will take place Jan. 19-20 at the Hiwassee Refuge in the community of Birchwood. This will be the 22nd anniversary for the event, which will run from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.

The Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is a celebration of the thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate through or spend the winter on and around the Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood. It is also an opportunity to focus attention on the rich wildlife heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area.

"If you enjoy National Geographic Magazine's photos and educational TV programs, then you can experience the wonder of Tennessee wildlife by watching not only thousands of sandhill cranes, but also see endangered whooping cranes, bald and golden eagles, and a variety of other native wildlife species at the Hiwassee Refuge," said Dan Hicks, Region III I&E coordinator and festival committee chairman. “In addition to the wildlife viewing, there are also other activities for the entire family.”

Beginning in the early 1990s, the recovering population of eastern sandhill cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Refuge on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. TWRA has been managing this refuge for more than 60 years for waterfowl, and the cranes found a perfect combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. Now, as many as 12,000 of these birds spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.

Along with the opportunity to view the birds during the festival, special programs will also be held throughout each day at the Birchwood Elementary School and Cherokee Removal Memorial. 

The Birchwood Elementary School will be a focal point during the festival, providing parking for shuttle transportation to the refuge. In addition, overflow parking will be available at Birchwood Baptist Church. Shuttle buses will run continuously from the school and church throughout the day to both the refuge and Cherokee Memorial. The refuge will only be accessible by shuttle bus with the exception of handicap parking and event workers’ permits.

A full schedule of entertainment and various programs will be held at the school. The school gymnasium will host children’s activities, vendors, festival sponsor exhibits and entertainment. The school library will offer continuous films and presentations about Tennessee wildlife.

One of the presentations will be by naturalist and storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis, who will perform different programs each day during the festival at Birchwood Elementary School. The American Eagles Foundation, based in Pigeon Forge, will make its popular presentation, featuring raptors that have undergone rehabilitation. Musical performances will include TWRA’s Chief of Information and Education Don King. Area traditional authority Tom Morgan, along with Lynne Haas and Ray Branham, will perform traditional Western and bluegrass songs.

A variety of vendors will be on hand, selling a wide range of items. Food service will be available each day in Birchwood Elementary School’s cafeteria.

The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial will host Native American performances and demonstrations on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Hiwassee Refuge comprises about 6,000 acres. Birchwood Elementary School is only three miles from the wildlife-viewing site at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. The Cherokee Removal Memorial is found just to the side of the refuge near the Tennessee River.

Sponsors for the free family event are the Tennessee Ornithological Society and the Mapp Foundation, in partnership with TWRA, the Birchwood community, Birchwood Elementary School, the Cherokee Removal Memorial, Blue Moon Cruises, Olin Chemicals Corp., and Meigs and Rhea county tourism.

For more information, contact Sandhill Crane Festival committee member Melinda Welton of the Tennessee Ornithological Society at 615-799-8095.

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