Othello Crane Festival canceled for 2011

OTHELLO -- There still will be plenty of cranes stopping over in Othello this spring, but there may be smaller crowds gathering to watch them.

The group that organizes the Othello Crane Festival has voted to cancel it in 2011 because of a shrinking pool of volunteers.

The March festival, which has drawn thousands to the small town since it started in 1998, will return in 2012, organizers said.

Dixie Fultz has helped with the festival every year. She said this year there just hasn't been the same 30 or so people to help out.

"They've moved out of the community, and no one has stepped up to take their place," Fultz said.

She said about 12 volunteers are at work, but that's not enough. And as deadlines for getting the brochure done got closer, the group voted at its December meeting to skip this year.

"We just didn't have enough help to get the work done," Fultz said.

But a meeting is scheduled today with festival organizers and city officials to try to come up with a plan to keep the festival going for 2011.

About 20,000 sandhill cranes stop over in the Othello area every spring to fatten up on their way back to Alaska after spending the winter down south. The elegant birds stand as tall as four feet and have wingspans exceeding six feet.

The festival was started to bring bird lovers to town to see the beautiful birds. It includes bus tours to see the birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the nearby Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, has been a big help with past festivals, but the staff has been cut from eight to three, according to Refuge Manager Kelly Chase.

The USFW will still hold trips to see the birds, which are not camera shy. For information on the bird-watching tours, call 509-488-2668.