The public is invited to the grand reopening of Wildlife Drive at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, Oct. 1, starting at 9 a.m. Admission to the drive is free to all visitors the entire day, until the gate closes at 6:30 p.m. Tram tours will run that day at regular fare.
Closed since May 20, the 4-mile Wildlife Drive has added one new water control structure and replaced another that was deteriorated. These improvements will assist with habitat restoration and wildlife management.
Other improvements include new pervious parking areas at popular stopping points and additional parking spaces at the Calusa Shell Mound Trail, the latter of which also removes a blind curve. The main purpose of the project was to replace the old deteriorated pavement with a new smooth surface that will be more cyclist and pedestrian friendly.
Work on Wildlife Drive. PHOTO PROVIDED.
"The old pervious pavement, installed in 2002, had deteriorated to a point where it was no longer pervious and had become so rough that our cycling visitors could no longer comfortably ride the drive," said Wildlife Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik. "It was supposed to last at least 10 years, but it barely lasted that long as it was severely crumbling and functionally impervious."
The new asphalt surface will extend the life of Wildlife Drive for at least 20 years, Tritaik said. Following the official reopening on Oct. 1, Wildlife Drive will remain open to the public during normal operating hours with regular entrance fees. The drive closes Fridays for maintenance and to give wildlife a disturbance-free day.
With the reopening of Wildlife Drive, the public will now also have full access to the new Wildlife Education Boardwalk that opened last month off of Indigo Trail.
"We appreciate everyone's patience with the Wildlife Drive closure," said Tritaik. "We know it has been an inconvenience to our loyal nature-lovers, but we hope it will be worth the wait."
As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge's mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.