Refuge visitors have fun learning about environmental awareness during Earth Day
The 41st celebration of Earth Day came to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge last Friday, with a full lineup of environmental-focused activities for both young and old to participate in.
Wildlife Drive, which is usually closed to human activities on Fridays, was open to bikers and hikers throughout the morning and afternoon, with complimentary bicycle rentals offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers.
“We hiked along Indigo Trail, but we didn’t see any animals,” said 11-year-old John Reese, who was visiting the refuge for the first time with his mom and dad, John and Joan. “We’re gonna come back tomorrow morning and do some kayaking.”
The family from Atlanta, Ga. said that they had researched things to do at “Ding” Darling NWR before arriving on Sanibel, and were thrilled to discover even more activities inside the Education Center.
“This year’s activities are geared for all ages,” said Ranger Becky Wolff, refuge education specialist, who noted that the first 200 visitors to the refuge received a free reusable shopping bag.
At the refuge’s Education Center Education Lab, staff and volunteers oversaw a number of kid-oriented crafting activities, including how-to demonstrations for making beeswax candles, creating a pop-bottle butterfly or flower and making “Mother Earth” ornaments and “plarn” (plastic bag yarn).
“We were way busy in the morning, and things were pretty steady until around 1 p.m.,” said supervisory ranger Toni Westland. “What we tried to do was focus on easy things you can do to help protect our environment. We don’t want to be preachy or say ‘Don’t do this’ or ‘Don’t do that.’ It’s the little things that can make a big difference.”
For example, fellow refuge worker Ivy Stewart dressed up as “Bagzilla.” Clad in 500 plastic shopping bags — representing what the typical consumer would use in one year — she handed out reusable shopping bags to visitors throughout the facility.
“We came because we just have an interest in nature and doing things to help save the earth,” said Greg Antemann, visiting from Fort Mill, S.C. “I thought the information about the Duck Stamps was interesting, but learning about how we can help take better care of the planet is even better.”
First celebrated on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was founded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson hoped that a grassroots campaign focusing on environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C. just how distressed Americans were in every constituency.
“I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically,” Nelson said in 1969. “To marshal such an effort, I am proposing a national teach-in on the crisis of the environment to be held next spring on every university campus across the nation. The crisis is so imminent, in my opinion, that every university should set aside one day in the school year-the same day across the nation-for the teach-in.”
Approximately 20 million people in the United States took part in the initial celebration. By 2007, an estimated one billion people worldwide in more than 170 countries took part in Earth Day-related activities.
“Everybody can do simple things, like recycling their aluminum cans,” added Westland. “When people hear that one can will last for approximately 200 years, they realize what just a little effort can do.”