Crane Creative Arts Contest provides inspiration for high school seniors

A pair of cranes returned home in the Yampa Valley looking for something to eat in a hay meadow just off of Routt County Road 42 on Monday.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Spring brings the Greater Sandhill cranes back to Routt County for the summer, which makes it the perfect time for the Crane Creative Arts Contest. The contest, which is put on by the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, is in its third year. Any high school senior in Routt or Moffat County is eligible to enter and will be considered for a $1,500 scholarship for the school of their choice.

“We’re always looking for ways to get the younger generation involved with cranes and conservation,” said Nancy Merrill, president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition.

The organization, which is dedicated to the protection and conservation of Sandhill cranes in Colorado, hosts several programs and events each year, including the Yampa Valley Crane Festival which takes place each September across the valley.

“We also have a program in which we go visit third-grade classrooms in Routt County and present a program about cranes to them,” Merrill said. “And we have a coloring contest for younger children each year. But we needed to find a way to try and involve the older kids as well.”

Thus, the Crane Creative Arts Contest was created in 2018. Participants can submit in one of three categories: writing, a nonfiction essay or a fiction story between 750 to 1,500 words; poetry, a collection of three poems; or other artistic media including painting, music, digital art or photography. The entries must be original and reflect something about the Sandhill crane and their behaviors or habitat.

“The first year we did it, it was solely a writing contest, but we got some really creative entries that didn’t fit into either an essay or poetry category,” Merrill said. “It ended up being much more creative than just a writing contest. We expanded the next year, so that kids could decide what medium they were most comfortable with.”

Liz Ruzicka is a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, who wrote an essay titled “When They Take Flight” to submit to this year’s contest.

“I was interested in entering the crane-inspired creative arts contest because I believe in the organization, and I had several distinctive childhood memoirs connected to the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill crane,” Ruzicka said. “I wrote about the wetlands that surround my home, and the subsequent loss of those wetlands due to development. This contest is meaningful to our community because it supports the arts while promoting awareness about an important regional species.”

One grand prize winner will be awarded in each of the three categories. In order to be eligible to receive the winning funds, participants must be enrolled in a higher education program by November 2020. Additionally, one entry in any of the three categories will receive an honorable mention distinction and be awarded $500.

The deadline this year has been extended to Wednesday, April 15. All entries can be submitted to Find entry details at

“Now that students are at home and no longer physically in school or playing sports, we really want to give everyone the opportunity to participate if they want to,” Merrill said. “It’s a great chance to learn about a species in our community as well as to get some fresh air and go see them in person.”

The organization is hoping that the winners will be able to be featured in an exhibit at the Depot Art Center during a future First Friday Artwalk.

“The artwalk was canceled for April, which is another reason to extend the deadline,” Merrill said, “We’re hoping that they can be featured the following month so that everyone can enjoy their writing and art.”

The winners will be picked in May by a series of judges for each category.

Cindy Wither, one of the judges in the other media category said they are looking for pieces that are unique and fun, as well as individualized.

“It’s a great project for kids to spend time on at this time when we can’t go out and do anything,” Wither said. “They can research cranes online, look at pictures and gain understanding all through the internet.”

Indeed, while stuck at home, this is the hope.

As Merrill said, “We’re hoping that this contest will give students a chance to be inspired by the cranes who are returning this month.”

Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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