21st annual ‘Ding’ Darling Days offers outdoor family fun all week long
On Sunday, Oct. 17, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will host its 21st annual “Ding” Darling Days, a week-long festival of fun, family-oriented attractions and events that, according to “Ding” Lead Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, are all designed to help families connect with nature — and reconnect with each other.
“The purpose of the event is to give families a free way to connect with nature — to unplug themselves and their kids from computers, iPods, phones and all that technology and get outside and have fun learning about our beautiful world,” Westland said.
The event begins with Family Fun Day, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a full line-up of free, educational — and of course, fun — activities and programs, presented by the Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary at Flamingo Gardens, the Calusa Herpetological Society. Throughout Family Fun Day, attendees can make their own nature crafts, take naturalist-narrated Refuge tram tours, browse environmental displays and informational booths, enjoy a butterfly house, have their faces painted and partake in hot dogs and soda, all free of charge. The first 500 youngsters to arrive on Family Fun Day will also receive a free “Ding” Days goodie bag.
“New this year to Family Fun Day is the free touch tank at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the official refuge concessionaire, located on the refuge at the north end of Tarpon Bay Road,” Westland said. The Tarpon Bay Explorers touch tank will be open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Throughout the week, Tarpon Bay Explorers will offer their many nature cruise and kayak tour opportunities at a 25 percent off discount. TBE activities include the breakfast and evening “Nature and Sea Life” cruises ($18.75 for adults, $11.25 for children), guided kayak tours ($22.50 for adults, $15 for children), afternoon “Sea Life and Nature” cruises ($15 for adults, $9 for children) and the “Sunset Paddle” ($30 for adults, $18.75 for children).
Monday through Friday at 12:45 p.m., Tarpon Bay Explorers will also host free deck talks on topics such as dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and the Calusa indians.
There will also be plenty of daily opportunities to tour and take in the beauty of the Refuge by bike or tram, including free access to Wildlife Drive for hikers and bikers from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Conservation Art Day on Saturday, Oct. 23, will bring “Ding” Days to a close with activities including family nature art workshops, cartooning and the first-ever free tram photography workshop, available to the first 30 people who sign up that day at the tram booth in the refuge parking lot.
A presentation and stamp-signing by the current Federal Duck Stamp Artist Robert Bealle will be Conservation Art Day’s feature event.
And as an added bonus, the first 200 kids who arrive on Conservation Art Day will receive a free art kit!
But there’s more — wildlife cartoonist Dave Horton will draw caricatures for the first 50 guests who arrive at the education center on Conservation Art Day.
“I’m excited and yes, everyone else should be too! If families are looking for free, fun, educational ways to connect and spend time together, making memories that will last a long time, then they should come — and bring a camera to capture the memories,” Westland said. “Paige the Bald Eagle, a rehabilitated eagle that can’t be released back into the wild, will be back, so come take a picture of our national symbol.”
Paige will make an appearance on Family Fun Day at 2 p.m. in the “Ding” Education Center parking lot.
“The ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crown jewels of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a huge driving force of conservation and visitation to this area, but we could not do this event without the support of our local businesses and partners on the islands,” Westland said. “This event is truly a community event.”
For more information about the 21st annual “Ding” Darling Days, go to www.DingDarlingDays.com.