With up to 30,000 Sandhill Cranes visiting Pulaski County annually, one would never guess that the birds were once on the threatened species list. Nick Echterling, Property Manager at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, said Sandhill Cranes went from being a scarcity to a staple in the community.
“Sandhill Cranes have a pretty big comeback story because they used to be on the threatened species list,” Echterling said. “Up until 1973, they were considered a threatened species. Now we have lots of them. Some other Midwestern states have been getting them, too. It’s a really good comeback story because there wasn’t a lot of them around back in the day, but now you can come and see up to 30,000 of them at one time. The sheer number of cranes that stop here makes the county unique.”
Echterling said that the cranes spend spring and summer in Wisconsin, Michigan, and southern Canada, which is where they nest and raise their young. For the winter months, they fly south to places like Texas and Florida to keep warm. Northwest Indiana is one of the crane’s major stop in migrating from up north to down south.
The cranes spend lots of their time at Jasper-Pulaski when they stay in Pulaski County. With ample space for the birds to explore, it is no surprise that it’s their favorite spot.
“We have about 500 acres by the crane tower here at Jasper-Pulaski, and that’s their refuge,” Echterling said. “They like to congregate in our refuge at the crane tower. They do that at sunrise and sunset, and then they feed in private farm fields all around. The crane tower is pretty much empty all summer, but now we’re starting to see people come out and use it. We’ve definitely noticed more visitors in our parking lots and walking around the area.”
Nathan Origer, Executive Director of Pulaski County Community Development Commission, said that while he may see a smaller scattering of cranes near State Road 39 in the heart of the county, they mostly spend time in the west part of the county close to Jasper-Pulaski.
Through the years, Origer has noticed an influx of people during the migration season. With so many cranes in the area, people enjoy visiting the crane tower at Jasper-Pulaski and exploring the rest of the county, snapping pictures of the beautiful birds along the way.
“I see the cranes offering something fairly unique for Medaryville and Northwestern Pulaski County to latch on to a community identity,” Origer said. “There’s an annual Crane Cruise bicycle ride every fall, and it’s something that people associate with the area. And, of course, we see an influx of visitors every fall, especially in the area whose sole purpose in coming here is to see the birds. If helps to put us on the map.”
The annual Medaryville Crane Cruise weaves through popular crane sites including Jasper-Pulaski and the Kankakee River. The cruise not only includes sightseeing but also shirts and homemade goodies.