By Mike Steely
If you’re looking for something to do with the family this cold month there’s an annual event going on just south of Knoxville near Cleveland. If you’ve never seen a naturally occurring spectacle then you’ve got to take a day away and go see the thousands of Sandhill Cranes.
Each year the flocks of cranes stop by the Hiwassee Refuge during their migration. The sight of a moving carpet of the large birds is awesome and crowds of families, especially children, marvel at the sight.
Joining the cranes often are eagles, white pelicans and whooping cranes. The area is ideal for feeding and roosting with its shallow water and sloping land. As many as 12,000 cranes have been counted where the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers join.
The Birchwood Community Center and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency are hosting the 26th Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, January 13-14. Olan Chlor is sponsoring this year’s event and the festival includes the popular American Eagle Foundation, recording artists 2nd Nature, a speaker, folk singers and arts and craft vendors.
The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial is hosting Native American folklorists and crafts. The Tennessee Aquarium is providing guided crane and eagle climate-controlled boat tours on the Hiwassee River.
Free buses will run from the Birchwood Community Center to the Refuge and Removal monument and both places have great views of the huge number of cranes.
Birchwood is located on Highway 60 northeast of Cleveland, Tennessee. You can also take Highway 30 from Athens to Decatur and go left on Highway 58 south to Highway 60. You can find more information at www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/birds/sandhill-crane-festival.html