Festival planning a yearlong effort

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Bosque del Apache NWR
Festival of the Cranes Coordinator Michael Hanauer isn’t losing any sleep worrying about the Bosque del Apache’s signature annual public event, but only because he and many others have been preparing far in advance of the Nov. 13 start date.
Besides Hanauer, there are four other paid coordinators to plan and manage the festival, such as Liz Taylor, the festival registrar, who started work in September.
“I have been planning all year long,” Hanauer said. “Any given month, there are different things to get done.”
Hanauer came on board as festival head coordinator last December.
This year marks Hanauer’s first year as coordinator, but not his first experience with the festival.
Last November, he shadowed former festival coordinator Robyn Harrison, whom he credits for his confidence about this year’s event.
“Robyn led the festival for four years, and created a tremendous base,” he said.
While he was assisting Harrison, Hanauer took time to interact with presenters.
“I talked to key speakers, and got their input,” he said. “I adopted all of their ideas for this year’s festival.”
As a result, this year’s roster features 54 new or significantly altered programs out of the 110 scheduled, especially for topics involving cranes and raptors, he said.
The biggest change in terms of area happens just west of the refuge visitor center.
“Eighty percent of festival-goers visit the refuge in their car and then participate in the free events,” he said. There is a $5 fee per car to drive inside the refuge.
Based on that information, Hanauer doubled the size of the Wildlife Zone — an area devoted to free, hands-on educational children’s activities. The Wildlife Zone will be open from Friday afternoon, Nov. 16, to Sunday afternoon, Nov. 18.
“It’s for families with kids,” he said, “or anyone young at heart.”
A new Wildlife Zone attraction will be a large artificial pond New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will stock with 9- and 18-inch trout.
Children under 18 will be able to fish for free, and volunteers will clean the fish and package their catch so the lucky fisherkids can take it home for dinner. Tackle will be provided at no charge.
“The pond will give kids a real life experience of what it is like to catch a trout,” he said.
Besides fishing, children will be able to try their hand with archery, although there will be no actual hunting.
Interested in the role fire plays in managing habitat? For a $5 fee, children and parents can participate in  a controlled burn on the refuge property, learning the basics of fire prevention and suppression.
Some of the refuge’s heavy equipment will be parked at the Wildlife Zone for children to explore, and Tonka versions of the bulldozers, graders and cranes will be set up in a huge sandbox to let future heavy equipment operators create pretend refuge wetlands and canals.
People can walk up to captive raptors at booths manned by volunteers from Hawks Aloft and Hawks International. Mexican gray wolves will be on display as well.
Preparing for the needs of the 8,000 visitors Hanauer expects at this year’s event, up about 2,000 from last year, had to be carefully organized.
“We have extra parking, which more than doubles our present capacity,” he said. The local high school MESA club has been hired to direct traffic.
Breakfast burritos, hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as cold drinks will be prepared by the high school Interact Club, a youth branch of Rotary International, as well as Green’s Kitchen, a local food catering company. Socorro’s M Mountain Coffeehouse will be selling their beverages in the art tent next to the visitor center.
Six months ago, refuge staff installed electrical boxes at the art tent site, eliminating noisy generators.
All festival exhibits and activities support the Friends of the Bosque mission, which is to protect the refuge’s wildlife and habitat through education.
The Friends of the Bosque is a non-profit, volunteer organization founded in 1993.
“The Bosque is about wildlife — preserving habitat and animals,” he said. “The secondary mission is education because what protects wildlife is education.”
The refuge staff used to struggle to provide access to the public who want to experience the refuge during the high birding season from November through February, Hanauer said. Thanks to the help of the Friends of the Bosque and the 30 or so resident volunteers who live and work at the refuge during the winter, the refuge can handle the impact of the thousands of bird enthusiasts every winter.
The Friends of the Bosque manages the gift shop and the festival, the proceeds from which support educational projects at the refuge such as guided free refuge tours and funding for guided school field trips.
Now that the festival is getting underway, volunteers and staff are busy with last minute details, such as cleaning the gardens and pathways around the Cactus Arboretum. The activity level is high, but calm.
“We’re on it. Everyone’s busy,” Hanauer said. “There are details to take care of all the time, so quite a few of us are working really hard. Refuge park ranger Chris Leeser has worked 17 days in a row without a day off. He’s first in line, in charge of the visitor’s center, scheduling and handling all of the duties for the volunteers during the festival.”
The only thing Hanauer can’t control is the weather.
“Winds are the hardest thing to deal with, especially the dust,” he said.