Events: Sandhill Crane Festival in Birchwood Celebrates Winter Crane Spectacle
January 7th, 2014

Sandhill Crane Festival:  January 18-19, 2014

Each winter, an estimated 20,000 redheaded, long-legged sandhill cranes descend upon the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Birchwood, Tenn., as part of a migration pattern that originates in Indiana. For 23 years, birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts from across the country have gathered to celebrate this winter spectacle at the Sandhill Crane Festival, which will take place January 18-19 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The annual festival offers visitors the opportunity to view the cranes and learn about the rich historical and cultural heritage of Southeast Tennessee. For two days, the rural community of Birchwood transforms into a premier ecotourism destination, offering free shuttle service between three festival sites: the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers; Birchwood Community Center, 3 miles from the wildlife viewing site; and the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, located at historic Blythe Ferry along the Tennessee River.

Sandhill Crane Viewing

The sandhill crane stands more than 4 feet tall with a wingspan stretching more than 6 feet, making it one of the largest birds found in Tennessee. Of all 15 crane species in the world, sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide-ranging, although that was not always the case. In the 1800s, the sandhill crane was nearly decimated in the eastern U.S. by overhunting and habitat loss.

Today, the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge has one of the largest wintering flocks of sandhill cranes in the southeastern United States—more than 20,000 cranes winter there from November through February. The 6,000-acre refuge offers ideal conditions for the cranes: 450 acres of corn, millet and milo, along with shallow water and mudflats. The area is also home to other waterfowl, bald eagles and the occasional federally endangered whooping crane.

In an effort to help visitors get an up-close look at the cranes and other wildlife, guides from the Tennessee Ornithological Society and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be on hand with viewing scopes at the refuge. Crane viewing is best in the morning; the birds tend to fly in the afternoon and return to the refuge near 3 p.m.

"So far this year, we have seen typical movement of the cranes," said TWRA public information officer and event organizer Dan Hicks. "Last year, there were fewer cranes in the area because the water was so high. This year, however, we have already seen several thousand cranes at the refuge."

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a sandhill crane hunting season from Nov. 28 to Jan. 1 in Southeast Tennessee. Hunting grounds include areas south of Interstate 40 and east of Highway 56 but exclude the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and other wildlife refuges, as well as areas where hunting is prohibited.

Birchwood Festivities

Along with the opportunity to view the cranes during the festival, a full schedule of programs and activities will take place at Birchwood Community Center (formerly Birchwood Elementary School). Visitors can enjoy nature and history-themed programs, regional music, food, vendors and children’s activities on both days.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., TWRA state ornithologist Scott Somershoe will discuss Tennessee’s golden eagle population; and on Sunday at 1 p.m., TWRA Region III biodiversity coordinator Chris Simpson will provide a research update about bats in Tennessee.

The American Eagle Foundation from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., will present their renowned raptor show at 2 p.m. on both days. Blue Moon Cruises will offer eco-cruises on the Hiwassee River during the festival (reservations required).

Breakfast and lunch will be available at the community center on Saturday and Sunday.

Cherokee History

The Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, an official Trail of Tears site located within the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, will highlight the history of the Cherokee people in Meigs County during the festival. The 29-acre park overlooks Blythe Ferry, where approximately 9,000 Cherokees, 500 Creeks and 127 slaves crossed the river during the Cherokee Removal in 1838.

This year, the park will showcase its Cherokee Removal Memorial Wall, unveiled in 2013 in memory of the Cherokee people who were forcibly removed from their native homeland in the Southeast. The memorial features the names of 2,535 heads of households, as well as the number of persons in each household, based on the 1835 Henderson Roll, a census of Cherokee people east of the Mississippi River.

The park also features a visitors center and short trail to an overlook of Blythe Ferry.

Visit the Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival website or more information.



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Southeast Tennessee: Discover Small Town Charm in South Pittsburg, Tenn.
December 19th, 2013

As an alumna of Boyd-Buchanan I was familiar with South Pittsburg, but I had only visited the town on trips to see the Buccaneer vs. Pirate showdown. During my high school days, all I ever saw of the town was a sea of orange and black cheering under the bright Friday-night lights. However, during my first week as an intern with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association, I had the opportunity to visit this small town outside these parameters - what used to be a small football town transformed into a beautiful family-centered district with a fascinating history.

Driving into the town I was immediately floored by the simplistic beauty of the downtown area. The whole area gave me a feeling of belonging and warmth, before I even stepped out of the car. I was so excited to start my adventure, so I pulled into a parking spot on Cedar Avenue outside one of the shops. One great thing about South Pittsburg is that there are no parking meters. Free parking may not sound like much, but when you spend a lot of time in downtown Chattanooga, it’s a nice start to the morning.

The Princess Theater in South Pittsburg, Tenn.I had completely forgotten that we were in the Central Time Zone, so all of the shops were closed when we arrived. My trip companion, Cody, and I decided to take a look at the South Pittsburg History Museum. The hour I spent inside the museum wasn’t spent looking at the numerous artifacts inside glass cases, but talking with three wonderful volunteers from the South Pittsburg Historical Preservation Society about the town and their experiences in it.

Upon the volunteers’ suggestion, Cody and I ventured out to Cedar Avenue to explore the many shops. We began with South Pittsburg Antiques, which had a plethora of antique goodies, including many pieces of furniture that I wish my college-student budget could afford. Another cute shop we explored was Loyd’s, a small boutique with clothing for women of all ages. The temptation to buy was high, but I was saving my money for one store in particular – Hammer's. I spent a good  30 minutes there picking out a Christmas present for my dad and, as an added bonus, I found the perfect birthday present for my roommate!

After shopping, Cody and I decided it was time to grab a bite to eat, but not before I got a chance to take a peek inside of the newly-renovated Princess Theatre. With the hardwood stage and beautiful Christmas decorations, the theatre reminded me of Chattanooga’s own Tivoli Theatre. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago that same building was falling apart and in danger of demolition.Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

With my wishes of visiting the Princess granted, we stopped by the Harvey Pirate Restaurant right off Cedar Avenue for lunch. My meal consisted of a cheeseburger and the best tater tots I have ever had. It was obvious that everybody knew everybody, and being in that kind of atmosphere warmed my heart.

Our last stop on our visit was the Lodge Factory Store where they sell iron pots and skillets that are made in a factory behind the store. If you enjoy outdoor cooking - or if you’re like my mom and can’t make cornbread in anything but an iron skillet - this is the perfect store. If you ever find yourself at Lodge, make sure you check out their seconds stock in the back of the store. This is where they keep all of their “blemish” items that don’t look cosmetically perfect, but that work just as well as any normal skillet, at half the price!

Driving away from South Pittsburg, I felt like I was leaving some secret town, tucked away from the outside world, untouched.  If you’re ever looking for a fun place to spend the day, South Pittsburg is a great choice. No, there aren’t any theme parks or giant malls, but the atmosphere is welcoming and the people are friendly.

Gianetta Reno is an intern with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association, which works to promote the historical, cultural heritage and natural areas within the ten counties of the region. Questions and story ideas can be directed to Jenni Veal, Tourism Coordinator, at and Melissa Mortimer, Historic Preservation Planner, at


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Seasonal: Get Out to the Farm to Find a Christmas Tree
November 26th, 2013

Christmas décor is already lighting up store aisles, luring us into the holiday season earlier and earlier every year. If this artificial holiday marketplace makes you long for days of yore, then it might be time to visit a Christmas tree farm.

Choosing, and even cutting down, your own live Christmas tree can be a fun way to enjoy a simpler version of the holidays and spend some time outdoors in the scenic agricultural landscape of Southeast Tennessee.

There are a number of Christmas tree farms in the region that offer cut-your-own tree options or, if you prefer, will do the sawing and hauling for you—and many open to the public on Thanksgiving Day:


ARCY Acres
4439 Blaylock Road
Crossville, TN 38572
Ph. 931-788-0455
Tree varieties: A wide variety, from long-needle white pines to short-needle spruce and fir varieties.
Accepts cash, checks and major credit cards
Little Mountain Tree Farm
3186 Griffith Road
Pikeville, TN  37367
Ph. 423-881-3904
Tree varieties: White pine
Accepts cash and checks only.
McDowells Big Fork Nursery
4955 Tennessee 27 (Suck Creek Mountain)
Chattanooga, TN 37405
Ph. 423-658-6386
Tree varieties: Hemlock, white pine, Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce and Leyland cypress
Reese Family Christmas Tree Farm
205 Chestuee Road
Calhoun, TN  37309
Ph. 423-336-9757
Smith's Tree Farm
1022 Pitts Gap Road (Pitts Gap Mountain)
Graysville, TN 37338
Ph. 423-554-3100
Varieties: White pine, Hemlock, Leyland cypress, cedars, Norway spruce.

Before You Go:

Before heading out to a Christmas tree farm, call ahead to confirm a farm’s hours of operation; stock of trees; and any other farm activities they offer, such as hayrides, snacks and shopping.

  • Keep in mind that many farms only accept cash or checks, so don’t assume you can use a credit card.
  • Know the dimensions of the space where you plan to place your tree, and bring along a tape measure.
  • Check with the farm so you know what equipment you’ll need, although most tree farms supply saws, netting and other supplies.
  • It’s a good idea to take along some bungee cords and tie-downs to safely transport your tree.
  • Keep in mind that you are heading out to a farm and not the mall, so dress in layers to prevent getting too cold or too warm from exertion. Sturdy, waterproof shoes are the best option for uneven terrain.

A freshly cut Christmas tree will last for weeks if you take care of it. Check out the National Christmas Tree Association for tips about caring for your live Christmas tree.


The Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association works to promote the historical, cultural heritage and natural areas within the ten counties of the region. Questions and story ideas can be directed to Jenni Veal, Tourism Coordinator, at and Melissa Mortimer, Historic Preservation Planner, at


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