Guest commentary: Crane-inspired scholarship contest open to high school seniors | SteamboatToday.com
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Guest commentary: Crane-inspired scholarship contest open to high school seniors

Nancy Merrill
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Cranes are one of the oldest living species of birds on Earth, dating back at least 2.5 million years. They are large, beautiful birds that dance, mate for life and possess a haunting call that carries for over a mile.

Classified as a state endangered bird in Colorado in the 1970s, cranes have made a significant comeback, although they are still classified as a Tier 1 Species of Concern.

Over the centuries, these ancient and iconic birds have inspired the work of artists, writers and poets. In turn, these artistic endeavors have helped raised awareness of cranes and inspired people to work to protect them.



Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is the conservation and protection of Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Cranes and their habitat through education and science. Since its inception in 2012, CCCC has made use of art as a way to connect people to cranes and their remarkable story.

In 2018, thanks to the generosity of donor, Gail Jensen, CCCC initiated an annual scholarship contest that seeks both to raise awareness of Greater Sandhill Cranes and also to encourage the arts among the younger generation.



The Crane-inspired Creative Arts Scholarship Contest is open to all high school seniors in Routt and Moffat counties. A total of $10,000 in scholarship money is awarded to the winners of the contest.

To participate in the contest, high school seniors are invited to submit an entry in either of two categories:

Written Arts: an essay or story of 750-1,500 words or a group of three poems, inspired by the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Cranes

Visual Arts: a painting, sketch, photograph or piece of digital art, inspired by the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Cranes

The work has to be original and accurately reflect the physical characteristics, behavior and habitat of the Rocky Mountain Greater Sandhill Cranes.

Contest participants are encouraged to do research in order to learn about the ecology and life history of the cranes. Entries must be submitted by March 25 to erin@coloradocranes.org.

A panel of judges chosen by the coalition will review all submissions and select the winners.

Jennie Lay, freelance writer and Adult Program Coordinator for Bud Werner Library, has served as a judge in the written arts category since the beginning of the contest.

“I love reading about the ways in which cranes have touched the lives of young people, inspiring them at the bus stop, on school commutes, on walks with grandparents and at neighborhood nest sites,” she said. “This contest is such a beautiful way to share their awe with the rest of the community, and earn some money for post-high school education in the process.”

All contest entries will be displayed in April at a venue in Steamboat Springs. Winners will be announced at the senior awards ceremony for each high school in the spring, on the coalition’s website and from the podium at the annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

The first-place winner in each category will be awarded a $3,000 scholarship. The second-place winner in each category will receive a $1,500 scholarship. An honorable mention scholarship worth $1,000 will be awarded to a participant from either of the two categories

In 2021, Leilani Ward was chosen as the first-place winner in the Visual Arts category of this contest.

“Thank you so much for this artistic opportunity and amazing scholarship,” Leilani said. “I appreciate the support towards my furthering education and expansion of personal growth. The Sandhill Cranes are such a beautiful part of our community, and I’m glad to have been able to create something in honor of them.”

For more information, visit the CCCC website at ColoradoCranes.org/creative-arts-scholarship-contest. Email questions to erin@coloradocranes.org.

Nancy Merrill is the president of Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, the nonprofit organization that presents this scholarship contest.


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