Sandhill Cranes

A flock of Sandhill cranes is pictured above. Officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency recently announced that the 2020 Sandhill Crane Festival is set for Jan. 18-19.

The 29th edition of the annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is set for Jan. 18-19 at the Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood Community Center.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is the primary sponsor for the 29th edition of the festival and many staff members and volunteers will be contributing their services. The 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 as well as an opportunity to focus attention on the rich wildlife heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area.

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 the refuge for more than 60 years for waterfowl, and it provides sandhill cranes a combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. Thousands of birds now spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.

Free bus shuttle service will be available from the Birchwood Community Center to the Hiwassee Refuge and Cherokee Removal Memorial Park each day beginning at 8 a.m. No public parking is available at the refuge. The final shuttle will leave the refuge at 4 p.m. each day.

Various vendors will be at the Birchwood Community Center also beginning at 8 a.m. In addition, breakfast will be available for purchase at the community center each day beginning at 7 a.m. Lunch will also be available and the cafeteria will be open throughout the day and is operated by the Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council.

Music and special programs will be ongoing throughout each day. A children’s arts and crafts booth will also be in operation at the community center.

The International Crane Foundation and its mascot Hope will be joining TWRA at this year’s festival. The Crane Foundation’s headquarters is in Baraboo, Wis. TWRA’s Hiwassee Refuge naturally lends itself in supporting the mission of the Foundation, which is to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds and flyways in which they depend. Children can visit with Hope, the whooping crane mascot, at 10 a.m. each day of the festival.

The American Eagle Foundation will be present for its always-popular live raptor show each day with times at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Mary Feely, a Chattanooga native, will present a program at 1 p.m. Saturday on changes in avian diversity and potential invasive seed-dispersal post-wildlife in a southeastern deciduous forest. She teaches biology and ecology at Chattanooga State and works as an editorial assistant to an international environmental journal and an environmental journalism handbook at the West Chair of Excellence.

An official welcome and live music will start the programs each day at 11 a.m. TWRA Multimedia Division Chief Don King, also a Nashville recording artist, and the group Second Nature will perform. Local artist and songwriter Tanner Hillis will also perform Saturday. The Mt. LeConte Jug Band performs Sunday at 11 a.m. and will be followed by Don King.

The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial will feature Native American folklore specialists. They will present performances, artifacts and objects used in everyday life by Native American inhabitants in the Hiwassee River area.

Along with the wildlife viewing at the refuge, wildlife and birding experts will be on site. They will provide visitors with a unique educational experience by sharing information and viewing scopes. The festival will conclude by 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Hiwassee Refuge comprises about 6,000 acres. The Birchwood Community Center is only three miles from the wildlife-viewing site at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. The Cherokee Removal Memorial is adjacent to the refuge near the Tennessee River.

Sandhill Crane Festival presenting sponsors are Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council and Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. Partners include the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association, American Eagle Foundation, Hamilton County, Meigs County Tourism and Rhea County Tourism.