The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be among the organizations set to host the 2015 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival to be held on Jan. 17-18, at the Hiwassee Refuge and at the Birchwood Community Center. This will be the 24th anniversary for the event.
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 Kirk Miles, Wildlife manager, Region 3 and festival committee chairman. “In addition to the wildlife viewing, there are also craft vendors, food, free shuttle buses, and activities for the entire family.”
The festival will run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (EST) each day. Free bus shuttle service will be available from the Birchwood Community Center to the Hiwassee Refuge and Cherokee Removal Memorial Park each day. No public parking is available at the refuge.
The American Eagle Foundation will present a live raptor show each day at 2 p.m. at the community center. In addition, TWRA Ornithologist Scott Somershoe will present an update on the status and research concerning Tennessee’s golden eagle population on Saturday.
Various vendors will be at the community center selling a wide-range of items. Music, special programs, and children’s activities will be ongoing throughout each day. In addition, breakfast will be available for purchase at the community center each day from 7-8 a.m. and lunch will be available from 11:30-a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial will feature Native American folklore specialists. They 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 hand. They will provide visitors with a unique educational experience by sharing viewing scopes and information.
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 over 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.
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 found just to the side of the refuge near the Tennessee River.