Princeton gives a whoop

ABOVE, PRINCETON CRANE Festival organizers, from left, Mary and Bob Vethe, and Greg and Carol Bielski get ready to involve the community in all things wildlife. Left, a crane pokes its beak into a camera out of curiosity. Ariana Hones and submitted photo

by Ariana Hones

“I think about how close to extinction they came. To get through that genetic bottleneck and come back to a population in the hundreds and for Princeton to be a part of that, it is remarkable.”

So said Mary Vethe, a volunteer organizer for the Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton.

She is talking about the focus of the event: the endangered whooping crane.

The festival serves to recognize and recruit passion for this American icon during its three-day long celebration from Friday, Sept. 7 to Sunday, Sept. 9.

According to Operation Migration, a festival partner, the whooping Crane is one of two cranes found in the United States.

During 1860, approximately 1,400 whooping cranes lived in the United States. That number dwindled to a lonely 15 birds in 1941 due to hunting and loss of habitat.

With dedicated time and the development of the innovative ultralight-led migration, Operation Migration, a Canada-based organization has worked to bring whooping cranes back to the states.

“They looked at many different places throughout the U.S to reintroduce the crane, but eventually settled on Necedah National Wildlife Refuge due to its prominent wetlands,” said Bob

Vethe, another festival organizer.

A migratory path from central Wisconsin to Florida was established, with Necedah, Wis., as the northernmost terminus.

Once settled in Necedah, the cranes were surviving, but they needed to be thriving.

“The whooping cranes were not successfully raising their young,” Bob said. “They found that birds were abandoning their nests because of black flies, so the restoration team decided to look for another site.”

Operation Migration found White River Marsh, which is just north of Princeton.

Soon the whooping crane festival was brought to the area to promote this endangered species, wildlife activism and conservation efforts.

In its fifth year at the Princeton location, festival organizers are excited to invite people into the community for a weekend of activities, all in the name of protecting the whooping crane and the natural lands keeping them alive.

The festival begins Friday, Sept. 7, with the option to visit the EAA in Oshkosh for a guided tour of historic and experimental aircraft, as well as one of the Operation Migration’s ultralights that was used to guide the whooping crane migration.

In the evening, the festival kickoff dinner will take place at the Green Lake American Legion. A buffet dinner will be offered along with the presentation of an award for Operation Migration’s Volunteer of the Year. There also will be a talk by University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Misty McPhee on the reintroduction of whooping cranes.

Both the EAA tour and dinner require reservations, which can be found on the Operation Migration website.

Saturday, the largest festival day, boasts interactive fun for the whole family.

Free to the entire community, festival participants may enjoy talks on wildlife, a multitude of vendors and educational booths and two performances by David Stokes a “children’s edu-trainer.”

Youth also may participate in face painting and birdhouse building.

Housed in the Princeton Public School, the festival is supported by volunteer students and adults alike.

“The students put on a pancake breakfast in the morning and the Lion’s Club does a lunch,” Greg Bielski said.

Mary added the event is about a lot more than the breakfast or even the bird.

“You get drawn in because of the whooping crane, but the major reason behind their decline in population was loss of wetlands, so then you start trying to protect the wetlands. Then you are not just saving the wetlands for the whooping cranes, but for all the other species that depend on them. So it starts here [with whooping cranes], but quickly spreads,” she said.

As one of the only places in the United States where whooping cranes may be found, the festival works to bring people together to celebrate this endangered icon.

Operation Migration joins the festival organizers in their passion for this bird and the wildlife of the world.

“We are often asked why we dedicate our time and effort to save whooping cranes,” the organization’s website said. “The answer is simple for us: As aviators, we have a love for the creatures that taught us the art of flying. Now that they need our help, how can we refuse?”