Photo by Dalton Carper. Two sandhill cranes fly to meet up with other cranes in a nearby field near Kearney, Nebraska.

The Sandhill Cranes Spring Migration attracts nearly 40,000 tourists from around the globe, to Nebraska every year, creating an economic surge for many local businesses.

In Kearney alone, businesses make around $13 million from the Sandhill Cranes tourists, according to Kearney Travel and Tourism Director Roger Jasnoch. These businesses then pay around $300,000 in local taxes from the six-week period. The Sandhill Cranes Migration has also created close to 180 jobs in Kearney, according to Jasnoch.

Jasmin McGinnis, owner of local coffee shop Barista’s Daily Grind in Kearney, said she sees business increase when the crane season begins.

“There’s a good six weeks that is a different level of hustle-and-bustle around Kearney,” she said. “All businesses seem to get busier.”

McGinnis said her business can see a boost in sales around 12% to 15% overall during the crane migration, but some weekends show even higher sales. 

COVID-19 has impacted travel for migration tourists. Jasnoch said tourists have called about their concerns about COVID-19 after learning that Kearney decided to lift its mask mandate as of Feb. 23, 2021. 

“I had a fellow call from Colorado, and he asked if people were wearing masks,” Jasnoch said. “He didn’t want to go on a big tour if they weren’t. I told him that tours require masks at all times.” 

Jasnoch said that tourism for the migration came to a halt after only one week of scheduled activities in March 2020 due to the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown starting March 11, 2020. 

Bill Taddicken, director at Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, said the Center usually expects 5,000 people on their tours but will only be able to accommodate 500 visitors this year to ensure CDC social distancing guidelines are followed. 

“We would typically see around 30,000 people come through our door in six weeks,” Taddicken said. “This year we aren’t going to have the building open this year. We didn’t feel like we could have the building open and still be safe.” 

Jasnoch said he expects tourist numbers to be a little better but not significantly higher than last year’s migration due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Even with restrictions, businesses and other attractions are doing their part to encourage tourists to visit other local operations during their stay.

“We’re more than just a cup of coffee,” McGinnis said, “We go the extra mile, outside of your corporate coffee shop, to be a part of the community, welcome travelers and tell them about the great places to eat, places to stay and things to do in the area.” 

According to Taddicken, Rowe Sanctuary will often make recommendations to tourists for hotels, food, and other things to do while they are here. These recommendations also include going to other local sanctuaries for different kinds of bird watching.