Two-legged visitors descend into central Nebraska by the tens of thousands each spring.
They roam mazes of cornfields and wetlands. They slow traffic. They eat, gawk and loaf.
Then they are suddenly gone.
These guests aren't migrating sandhill cranes — one of nature's great spectacles. They are travelers from around the world who flock to Nebraska to experience the sights and sounds of the crane migration as winter turns to spring along the Platte River.
Now the call is out for volunteers to help sell hot dogs and hot coffee, ring up books and postcards or guide clusters of people on viewing-blind or footbridge tours.
An estimated 20,000 of the visitors who will funnel into the Kearney and Grand Island areas during the migration phenomena will stop at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Alda, said Jeff Oates, a spokesman. More volunteers are urgently needed to serve the visitors.
“It's showtime,'' Oates said. “This is our March Madness.''
The center has operated with about 30 volunteers in recent years. Oates hopes to double that number to distribute the workload this year. Training sessions for volunteers are scheduled for Saturday and Feb. 27 at the visitor center.
Cranes started arriving last week — usually it's mid-February when the first flights land — and joined an estimated 800 to 1,000 others that spent the winter on the Platte, said Greg Wright, a Crane Trust wildlife biologist. About 500,000 more cranes will pour into the region by the end of March before heading for northern nesting grounds.
Reservations already are being taken for viewing-blind tours at the Crane Trust and Audubon's nearby Rowe Sanctuary. Free public viewing decks and other sites also are available in the area. Dozens of public seminars, tours, nature hikes, films, art shows and other events are scheduled in Kearney, Grand Island and other communities next month.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Crane Trust or learning more about how to get involved may contact Karen Krull Robart at 308-382-1820 or via email@example.com. The visitor center is at 9325 S. Alda Road at Interstate 80's exit 305 west of Grand Island.
Training sessions will last about 3½ hours. Volunteers may decide whether they prefer to work inside or outside. Overnight housing at the Crane Trust may be available for some volunteers, Oates said.
The Crane Trust is a nonprofit organization established in 1978 dedicated to the protection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds along the Platte.
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