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 After the proposal was withdrawn, Merrill and co-organizer Barb Hughes decided to turn their decadelong idea into a reality.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