Prairie chicken poster contest open

Argen Duncan

The annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival poster contest is taking entries as the event, which had participant slots filled in record time this year, nears.

The 10th annual festival offers viewings of the lesser prairie chickens’ mating dances, entertainment and educational tours April 15-17 in Milnesand. The event is limited to 100 participants to avoid overtaxing Milnesand’s infrastructure and disrupting the prairie chickens during mating season.

“We want to give these bird space to do their mating dances,” said festival co-organizer Tish McDaniel of The Nature Conservancy office in Clovis.

McDaniel said the festival participant slots are already taken and always fill quickly.

“People from all over the United States and elsewhere are interested in these charismatic birds,” she said.

For the poster contest, artists from kindergarten up can depict the prairie chicken, competing in three age divisions, according to a news release from the state Department of Game and Fish. Any two-dimensional media is allowed.

The grand prize winner receives $300, and his or her the entry is to be reproduced on this year’s festival poster, according to the release.

“It’s just nice to see the variety of artwork that comes in,” McDaniel said.

The entry deadline is March 1.

This year at the festival Betty Williamson of Pep and Joe Whitehead of Clovis will entertain with their humorous poems about the prairie chicken, McDaniel said. Whitehead often sets his verses to music.

Tours involve topics such as playa lakes, archeological history and live reptiles and amphibians. For the first time this year, Dora High School junior Logan Bilbrey is conducting a tour to teach about native grasses and how the prairie chicken uses them for shelter when nesting and hiding from predators.

Bilbrey said as a member of Milnesand Fire Department, which helps put on the festival, and a ranching family, he thought more information on how the prairie chickens nest would be beneficial. He learned about the grasses through FFA.

McDaniel said this year, people are registered to attend from as far away as Seattle, Wash., and Falls Church, Va. The majority, however, hale from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

About 12 percent of the attendees return to the festival every year, McDaniel said.

“More than anything, the hospitality of the Milnesand people draws them back year after year; that’s what they say,” she said.

The communities of Milnesand and Portales provide vital support for the event, McDaniel said.

The best thing about the festival is not just educating people from all over, she said, but it’s the economic boost it brings back to the community.