Cranes take flight in a field near Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Cranes take flight in a field near Steamboat Springs.

Yampa Valley Crane Festival takes off early Sunday morning

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Yampa Valley Crane Festival schedule

Sunday

7 a.m. Shuttle leaves at 6:15 a.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center to Carpenter Ranch for crane viewing, family activities and bird walks. Shuttle leaves Carpenter Ranch for return to Stock Bridge Transit Center at 11:30 a.m. $5 suggested donation for shuttle.

4 p.m. Shuttle leaves at 3:30 p.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center to Carpenter Ranch for workshop on “Wildlife Photography for Beginners” with Judy Jones, family activities and a picnic dinner. Shuttle leaves Carpenter Ranch at 7 p.m. and returns to Stock Bridge Transit Center. $5 suggested donation for shuttle.

Monday

12:30 p.m. Senior program and “Raising Kid Colt” screening at Steamboat Springs Community Center, FREE

2:30 p.m. Senior program and “Raising Kid Colt” screening at the Haven Community Center in Hayden, FREE

6 p.m. Young Writers Group writing activity with BookTrails at Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

7 p.m. Shuttle leaves at 6:15 p.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center to Carpenter Ranch for crane viewing. $5 suggested donation for shuttle.

Tuesday

7 a.m. Shuttle leaves at 6:15 a.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center to Carpenter Ranch for crane viewing. $5 suggested donation for shuttle.

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Crane film screenings, art exhibition and lectures at Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

Wednesday

7 a.m. Shuttle leaves at 6:15 a.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center to Carpenter Ranch for crane viewing. $5 suggested donation for shuttle.

10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Crane film screenings, art exhibition and lectures at Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

— They call themselves craniacs.

Those who revere and study the migratory greater sandhill cranes that pass through Steamboat each year, like confessed craniac Nancy Merrill, are enamored of the nearly 5-foot-tall birds, who sometimes nest and raise their young in local wheat fields and wetlands.

“They’re amazing creatures,” local resident Merrill said. “They’ve inspired humans throughout history. I think they’re just a species that are charismatic. They just attract people.”

And at the end of the Yampa Valley Crane Festival next week, there could be a few more converted craniacs.

The four-day festival features viewings, workshops, exhibitions, lectures and family activities relating to sandhill cranes. The event kicked off at Bud Werner Memorial Library on Thursday night at a screening of the film “Born to Fly.”

Merrill, president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, which sponsored the event in partnership with several other organizations, said about 175 people came out to the screening, where local elementary school students were honored for their submissions to a crane coloring contest.

“There was lots of interest in the crane festival,” she said about the event. “It was a wonderful kickoff event.”

The festival begins in earnest Sunday, which is a day filled with family-oriented events at Carpenter Ranch west of Steamboat Springs.

On Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, shuttles will leave at 6:15 a.m. from Steamboat's Stock Bridge Transit Center for crane viewing at several west Steamboat locations. On Sunday and Monday evenings, there are shuttles for crane viewing at dusk.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, there will be several lectures, film screenings and the exhibition of a crane art show at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Local art galleries Mangelsen Images of Nature, the Artists’ Gallery of Steamboat and the Sleeping Giant Gallery have crane-related work on display, and there will be a wildlife photography workshop Sunday afternoon at Carpenter Ranch.

Merrill said a highlight of the week is a talk Wednesday night with ornithologist and International Crane Foundation co-founder George Archibald.

Archibald speaks at 7 p.m. in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library about cranes living at high altitude. In addition to the Rocky Mountains’ sandhill cranes, there are other crane species that live on the Tibetan Plateau and migrate over the Himalayas.

Local birder David Moulton and his wife, Tresa, helped organized the viewing portions of the festival. Moulton said he became fascinated with cranes when he moved to the Yampa Valley eight years ago. He will be telling stories on Sunday at Carpenter Ranch related to cranes' place in Japanese and Australian culture.

“The cranes pass through here every year, and a bunch of them actually nest here,” Moulton said. “It’s a fascinating bird. They’re huge, they’re incredibly graceful and the sound, it’s almost eerie. They do all these complex dance maneuvers pretty much year-round.”

Merrill said the impetus for the event, and the recent founding of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, was a proposal last year to allow hunting of sandhill cranes in Colorado. The proposal eventually was dropped.

“It’s raised people’s consciousness about the fact that cranes are in our valley,” Merrill said. “I think people are curious, and they want to learn more. I think they enjoy getting outside, and this is a wonderful reason to do that.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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