Guest Comment: Crane-inspired scholarship contest open to high school seniors

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Cranes are one of the oldest living bird species 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.

Listed as an endangered bird in the state of Colorado in the 1970s, cranes have made a significant comeback, although they are still listed as a Level 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 raise awareness of cranes and inspire people to work to protect them.



Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition is a non-profit organization whose mission is the conservation and protection of Rocky Mountain sandhill cranes and their habitat through education and science. Since its inception in 2012, CCCC has used art as a way to connect people to cranes and their remarkable history.

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



The Crane-Inspired Creative Arts Scholarship Competition is open to all high school students in Routt and Moffat counties. A total of $10,000 in scholarships is awarded to contest winners.

To participate in the competition, high school students are invited to submit an application in one of the following two categories:

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

Visual arts: a painting, sketch, photograph or digital artwork, inspired by the sandhill cranes of Rocky Mountain Greater

The artwork must be original and accurately reflect the physical characteristics, behavior and habitat of Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes.

Contest participants are encouraged to do research in order to learn more about the ecology and life history of cranes. Applications should be submitted by March 25 to [email protected].

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

Jennie Lay, freelance writer and adult program coordinator at the Bud Werner Library, has been a judge in the written arts category since the contest began.

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

All contest entries will be posted in April at a location 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 on the podium at the annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

The first winner in each category will receive 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 in either of the two categories

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

“Thank you so much for this amazing artistic opportunity and scholarship,” said Leilani. “I appreciate the support given to my studies and the expansion of my personal growth. Sandhill cranes are such a beautiful part of our community, and I’m glad I got to create something in their honor.

For more information, visit the CCCC website at ColoradoCranes.org/creative-arts-scholarship-contest. Email your questions to [email protected].

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

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