Crane Festival goes virtual |

Crane Festival goes virtual

A crane chick explores a Hayden ranch.
Nancy Merrill/courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa Valley Crane Festival is the latest event to announce plans for transitioning to a mostly-virtual format. 

The festival, presented by the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, is set for Sept. 3 to 6 and will be available to the public. A major component of the free event will be educational videos about greater Sandhill cranes.

The first of these videos is already available, and Coalition President Nancy Merrill reports it’s gotten a great response so far. Though the video was created as a virtual version of the program presented to third-graders throughout Routt County every spring, Merrill has seen plenty of adults tuning in to watch, too.

“We’re thrilled that people are watching it and learning from it,” she said. “It’s a good example of what we hope to create with the rest of the festival.”

Other educational videos’ topics that the coalition plans to add for the festival include crane nesting and breeding, cranes of the Yampa Valley and crane behaviors.

Watch the Sandhill Cranes of Colorado educational video at

Other components of the festival will be crane storytelling and crane yoga via video; an online exploration of public and private crane-related art around the Yampa Valley; a crane coloring contest; a crane photo contest; and the crane-inspired creative arts contest, which welcomes essays, poems and visual art by high school seniors across Routt and Moffat counties, with awards totaling $5,000 in scholarships. 

The coalition is also hoping to host several in-person activities for the 2020 festival, depending on health guidelines. The events with potential to happen live include crane viewings and bird walks, which are limited in number of participants and can exist in line with social distancing measures. 

“We won’t know (if these will be possible) until we’re closer to the festival,” Merrill said.

In contrast to the festivals of more typical years, which are attended by many national and international visitors, the potential live events this fall would be more locals oriented.

The speaker portion of the 2020 festival will not be replicated as virtual and instead, will be held over for the 10th annual festival, scheduled as an in-person event from Sept. 2 to 5, 2021. 

“I think that experience (of speakers presenting) needs to happen in person,” Merrill said.

All of the speakers originally scheduled for this year’s festival have agreed to reschedule their appearances for 2021. Featured speakers include keynote speaker Dr. Richard Beilfuss, president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation; Steve Burrows, award-winning mystery writer, journalist and past recipient of a Nature Writer of the Year award from BBC Wildlife; and Arvind Panjabi, avian conservation scientist for Bird Conservancy of the Rockies and co-author of the recent study on the decline of North American birds published in Science magazine.

While COVID-19 has changed so much about the crane festival, the greater Sandhill cranes themselves are carrying on as normal and are currently in the nesting phase of their cycle, according to Merrill. But the cranes may have noticed a change in the humans around them. This spring, Merrill has observed more people voyaging out to Hayden and Moffat County to view the cranes from the safety of their own cars. 

Find more information and educational videos at

Six-day-old crane chicks and two adult cranes explore a Hayden ranch.
Nancy Merrill
Two-day-old crane chicks in their new nest on a Hayden ranch.
Nancy Merrill

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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