Sandhill cranes go beak to beak while feeding in a field just west of Steamboat Springs in 2012. The cranes were part of a larger flock that gathers each year in the field. This year's Yampa Valley Crane Festival runs through Monday.

John F. Russell/file

Sandhill cranes go beak to beak while feeding in a field just west of Steamboat Springs in 2012. The cranes were part of a larger flock that gathers each year in the field. This year's Yampa Valley Crane Festival runs through Monday.

Crane Festival returns to Steamboat for 2nd year

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Yampa Valley Crane Festival

• Friday

3 p.m. Bird walk, Yampa River Botanic Park, FREE

5 to 8 p.m. Crane art show, Depot Art Center, FREE

• Saturday

5:45 a.m. Sunrise crane viewing, Stock Bridge Transit Center, $5. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Crane activities and games for children, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

4:30 p.m. Sunset crane viewing and artist quick draw, Stock Bridge Transit Center, $5. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

5 to 7 p.m. Picnic and self-guided bird walk, Carpenter Ranch, FREE or $15 includes dinner. Register for dinner by calling 970-846-5556.

• Sunday

5:45 a.m. Sunrise crane viewing, Stock Bridge Transit Center, $5. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

9 to 10 a.m. Sketch-a-crane workshop with Joan Hoffmann, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Plein-air painting workshop with Joan Hoffmann, Bud Werner Memorial Library, $30. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

1:30 p.m. “Cranes of the Rockies” film screening, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

3 p.m. Rocky Mountain greater sandhill cranes talk with expert Rod Drewien, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

• Monday

5:45 a.m. Sunrise crane viewing, Stock Bridge Transit Center, $5. Register by calling 970-846-5556.

9 a.m. Cranes and photography with Michael Forsberg, Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary, FREE

10:30 a.m. Crane story-time, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

Noon Crane conservation with Robert Skorkowsky, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

1 to 2 p.m. The art of birding with Joan Hoffmann, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE. Bring an image or passage that represents the inspiration of sandhill cranes.

2 p.m. “Raising Kid Colt” film screening, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

7 p.m. From Cranes to Plains with photographer Michael Forsberg, Bud Werner Memorial Library, FREE

Find more information about the festival here.

— They are the biggest of their type. They can mate for life. Their mythology and symbolism are marked in cultures across the world.

And they can dance.

“They’re the best dancers in the animal kingdom,” said Nancy Merrill, the president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition and one of the co-organizers of the second annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

For Merrill, the meaning of the crane is deep and rich. They greet her every morning near her ranch in Hayden.

And what started as an informal meeting of friends around this time of year eventually turned into a full-blown festival.

“We thought it would be great to have a crane festival,” Merrill said. “It’s a great draw for bird watchers and nature lovers. But also, cranes are culturally transcendent. They have a great appeal.”

The event made its debut last year in response to Colorado Parks and Wildlife considering a limited hunting season for cranes.

After the proposal was withdrawn, Merrill and co-organizer Barb Hughes decided to turn their decadelong idea into a reality.

“We were very surprised by the turnout last year,” Hughes said. “We had people from 28 cities around Colorado and 12 states. That was with minimal publicity.”

This year, with more time and planning, the second rendition is packed full of events across the Yampa Valley.

Merrill and Hughes said that in the second year they wanted to showcase the cranes but also do it across the valley to help highlight the area.

In addition to guided trips to see cranes at sunrise and dusk, there are speakers, movies, events for children and crane art and photography, including pieces around town during First Friday Artwalk.

For a full schedule of Crane Festival events, click here.

Several of the guided trips still have seats available on shuttles. There are seats for sunrise crane viewings Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Those shuttles leave at 5:45 a.m. from the Stock Bridge Transit Center. Saturday's sunset crane viewing, which includes a stop at the Carpenter Ranch picnic area and a quick draw event with six artists, also has space. That leaves at 4:30 p.m. from Stock Bridge Transit Center.

The cost for the shuttles is $5, and space can be reserved by calling Merrill at 970-846-5556.

Along with the guided tours and events across town, the festival has a detailed map for people who want to venture out on their own to view the cranes. For that map, click here.

Although the cranes mostly are on private land, they are viewable from county roads.

“This is something special we have in the valley, and that needs to be embraced,” Hughes said.

With the attention and anticipated participation in this year’s festival, the pair said, they plan on making it a yearly event. The hope, they said, is for each person to find a reason to love cranes.

“For me, it’s their call,” Merrill said. “It sounds like a trumpet. It’s something you’ll never forget. It’s the best alarm clock to wake up to.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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