The 2017 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is set for Jan. 14-15 (Saturday-Sunday) at the Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood Community Center.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is the primary sponsor for the 26th annual festival and many staff members and volunteers will again be contributing their services. For the sixth year, Olin Chlor Alkali Products is the corporate sponsor for the festival. 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 this refuge for more than 60 years for waterfowl, and the cranes found a perfect combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. As many as an estimated 12,000 of these 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.
Various vendors will be at the Birchwood Community Center beginning at 8 a.m 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 3 p.m.
Music, special programs, and children’s activities will be ongoing throughout each day. 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. There will be a presentation from Lizzie Condon, from the International Crane Foundation on whooping crane conservation efforts.
An official welcome and live music will start the programs each day at 11 a.m. TWRA Information and Education Division Chief Don King, also a Nashville recording artist and friends, including the group Second Nature will perform. Traditional heritage music led by Tom Morgan, Lynn Haas with friends will also perform and will include a special children’s music appreciation program each day.
The group, South Wind, will perform from noon until 12:45 on Saturday.
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 viewing scopes and information.
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.
Sandhill Crane Festival presenting sponsors are Birchwood Area Society Improvement Council and Cherokee Removal Memorial Park and partners include the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Tennessee Ornithological Society, Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, American Eagle Foundation, Chattanooga Chapter TOS, Hamilton County, Meigs County Tourism, and Rhea County Tourism.