The 2019 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is set for Saturday and Sunday, January 19-20, at the Hiwassee Refuge and Birchwood Community Center.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is the primary sponsor for the 28th edition of the festival and many staff members and volunteers will again 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 managed 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 both days, beginning at 8 a.m. No public parking is available at the refuge.
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 starting at 7 a.m. Lunch will also be available and the cafeteria will be open throughout the day.
Music and special programs will be ongoing throughout each day of the festival. A children’s arts-and-crafts booth will also be in operation at the community center
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.
Jamie Feddersen, TWRA Waterfowl Program Leader, will present Migration of North American Sandhill Cranes to Southeastern Tennessee at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
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 both days.
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 encompasses 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. Partners include the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, American Eagle Foundation, Hamilton County, Meigs County Tourism, and Rhea County Tourism.