City hopes to keep Othello Crane Festival running

OTHELLO — The Othello Crane Festival might get a second chance to take flight in 2011.

The city of Othello hopes to give organizers of the annual March festival enough support to again get it off the ground.

Festival sponsors decided to cancel the 2011 event citing a lack of volunteers to help meet the deadlines for coordinating and identifying speakers and information to print in the festival brochure.

The organizing committee and city staff met Wednesday to see about coming up with a plan to save the festival that has attracted thousands of visitors to the agricultural town since 1998.

Othello City Administrator Ehman Sheldon told the Herald afterward that he is confident they can put the event together in time.

"It's not the city's call though," he said.

About 20,000 sandhill cranes stop over in the Othello area each spring to fatten up on their way back to Alaska after spending the winter down south. The elegant birds stand as tall as 4 feet and have wingspans exceeding 6 feet.

The festival, which includes bus tours for bird watchers, brings in about $40,000 to the community through tourism, Sheldon said.

It is part of the city's identity, he said. When people think of Othello, sandhill cranes often are what comes to mind.

But organizers told the Herald that it has become more and more difficult to plan because of a shrinking pool of volunteers. Organizers expected to bring the festival back in 2012.

But the city council and mayor were concerned that if the festival took a year off, it might never return, Sheldon said.

He said city employees will work on finding speakers and collecting information on them so the brochure can be finished, Sheldon said.

"We aren't there yet," he said. But they've made progress, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pitching in.

Sheldon said they hope to have all the information on speakers ready when the city and committee meet again Jan. 7.

Festival chairwoman Dixie Fultz said the committee will decide then whether the festival will happen in the spring.

The city has accomplished a lot and has about seven confirmed speakers, she said. The festival needs about 25 speakers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still plans to offer public tours to see the birds, even if festival organizers cancel the 2011 crane festival.

For information on the bird-watching tours, call 509-488-2668.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com