New mascot ruffling feathers at 6th annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival |

New mascot ruffling feathers at 6th annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival

With the help of Oak Creek seamstress Heidi Miller, local artist Dona Steele and Erin Birtwistle who is the face behind the feathers, "Sandy" the Yampa Valley Crane Festival's new mascot, was created.
Nancy Merrill

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s a new character that will be ruffling feathers at the sixth annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

“Sandy,” the festival’s newly created mascot that resembles a Greater Sandhill Crane, will make an appearance at a few of this year’s community programs that will take flight starting Aug. 31 and continue through Sept. 3 at locations in Steamboat Springs and Hayden.

“We wanted a mascot because when you think of football or basketball, each of those sports have team mascots drawing people in because they see this creature that’s bigger than life,” said Nancy Merrill, an event organizer and president of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition. “Our new mascot is a way we can raise awareness and create curiosity about the cranes and the festival.”

Last year, Merrill said organizers arranged to have the International Crane Foundation bring in their mascot named “Hope,” who was well-received by crowds.

With the help of Oak Creek seamstress Heidi Miller, local artist Dona Steele and Erin Birtwistle, who is the face behind the feathers, ideas for the design of the three-piece mascot costume started back in February and made its debut during the Fourth of July Parade in Steamboat Springs.

“People love it,” Merrill said. “They ask a lot of questions, and it’s always fun to see their reactions. But it’s also a way of bringing people up to speed on some of the concerns and threats to the cranes.”

For the past month, the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition has been one of four nonprofits selected as the beneficiaries for Mountain Tap’s Token Tuesday event. There, the five-foot, life-sized “Sandy” made a few surprise appearances.

“The mascot we ended up with is really striking and really looks like a Sandhill crane,” said Merrill.

With next week’s festival quickly approaching, here are a few events according to Merrill to be on the lookout for:

Spirit Wind Aerial Arts dancers

5:30 to 6:15 p.m. | Thursday, Aug. 31

New to the event this year will be the Spirit Wind Aerial Arts dancers, led by local aerialist Heidi Miller. They will perform elegant high-flying dance in a hammock and silks, suspended high over the Library Lawn.

Dr. George Archibald

Keynote Speaker’s Presentation – “My Life with Cranes” | 1 to 3 p.m. | Saturday, Sept. 2

Dr. George Archibald, co-founder and senior conservationist of the International Crane Foundation, will host a presentation in Library Hall. The talk will be followed by a sale and signing of Dr. Archibald’s new book, “My Life with Cranes.” Click here to learn more about this event. Archibald, who was at the inaugural festival will be making a return visit and is known as one of the biggest names in the world of cranes.

First Friday Artwalk

5 to 8 p.m. | Friday, Sept. 1

For the month of September, participating galleries will feature a bird and crane theme.

Birding by Pontoon Boat

Although the festival has had this event in the past, this is the first time it will be held at Catamount Lake. See the Crane Festival schedule for more information on times and reservations.

New film

“The Eagle Huntress”| 6:30 p.m. | Thursday, Aug. 31

The children’s crane coloring contest award ceremony will be in Library Hall, followed immediately by the screening of the film, “The Eagle Huntress,” also in Library Hall. The film presents the story of a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia who attempts to become the first female eagle hunter to compete in the eagle festival in Ulgii, Mongolia.

Most of the Crane Festival events are free and open to the public. However, a few of the activities, including the crane viewing shuttles and events with limited space, require advance registration, which closes Aug. 26.

To see the full schedule, visit

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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