More than 400 visitors flocked to the Bosque del Apache for the 34th annual crane festival last week.

Julie-Anna Blomquist, event manager for Friends of the Bosque del Apache, said like many events coming out of COVID they were happy see growth in visitors this year. She said their focus this year was to get people interested in the environment, especially the complications that the drought has caused.

“We were wanting to see more engagement compared to last year and getting back to birding after COVID,” said Blomquist.

Pete Zwiers, was taking photos of a javelina on Friday morning of the festival. He said that he and his wife were on a southwest road trip and travelled all the way from British Colombia, Canada to stay six days in Socorro for the festival.

“Seeing the blast off with the snow geese in the morning, it’s pretty cool.” said Zwiers.

Every morning during their stay, the couple arrived at the bosque an hour before dawn until sunset and only left to get food in town. He said they come because they don’t get to see a lot of the animals at the bosque in Canada. He especially loves photographing the roadrunners.

Deb Caldwell, Executive Director of the Friends of the Bosque del Apace said that she is grateful that people are recognizing the refuge as having more than just bird watching. She has noticed that over the years, due to climate change, the refuge is seeing new animals migrate to the area too.

“People especially from the other parts of the United States they haven’t seen a javelina, bob cats and turkeys, we have so many different species on the refuge and in different seasons we have all types of different birds,” Caldwell said “The cranes are amazing, charismatic and beautiful and everyone loves them, but the refuge is so much more than that and it was rewarding to hear people talk about other wonderful things that they saw here including the light and the landscape.”

Caldwell said that for the Friends of the Bosque del Apache it’s important to also foster the relationship between the local community and refuge. They have programs to support school field trips and hope to expand their connection with the local community.

“I think it’s incredibly important that the community feel a connection to the refuge and vice versa, we are so fortunate in our area to have a treasure like that,” Caldwell said. “People tend to protect what they love and there is a lot of love for our public lands, to some degree it’s easy to take things for granted and if we don’t take care of our things I’d hate to think of a time when they are gone.”

Brian Henning and his wife traveled from Hobbs, New Mexico for the event. He said that other than during COVID they have been attending the festival for many years.He considers himself a hobby photographer, just last week he was doing fashion photography.

Henning spent four days in the area to take photos of not only wildlife but also historic buildings nearby and in downtown Socorro. He said he enjoys the events and restaurants the city has to offer during their stay.

“For the most part it’s a laid-back take picture kind of thing,” Henning said “It’s fun and relaxing and the people are very friendly.”

Caldwell recognizes the economic benefits of the festival contributes to the local economy and hopes to grow more programs that could bring people out to the refugee more than once a year for the Crane Fest.

“We are talking about; how can we do more things in every season to bring people out to the refugee and be more inclusive to more people?” Caldwell said.