‘Ding’ Darling adventure delights LARC members
“There’s one… there’s another one… that’s a BIG one!”
There was no containing the excitement as two dozen LARC members spotted bottlenose dolphins while cruising the pristine waters of Tarpon Bay within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
LARC has a rich history of providing opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to achieve independent and responsible lifestyles within our communities. The Sanibel-Captiva Lions Club, a long-time supporter of LARC, organized their visit to the refuge on Sept. 12.
The day began at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the concessionaire for the J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR. Husband and wife team Steve and Donna Yetsko, naturalists for Tarpon Bay Explorers, led the day’s events. Donna assembled the enthusiastic group upon their arrival and brought them into the Aquarium & Touch Tank Exhibit to begin their adventure. Both Donna and Steve engaged the inquisitive group with a variety of small marine life collected from the Tarpon Bay estuary, including live whelks, clams, sea stars and even a horseshoe crab.
Participants were encouraged to touch or hold the sea creatures presented to them. While holding a live lightning whelk, one participant squealed with delight when the mollusk squirted a burst of water as it retreated into its shell. Another eager participant lightly touched the end of a horseshoe crab’s tail to see if it felt sharp.
The group collectively gasped when Donna explained that the prehistoric looking horseshoe crabs have been in existence for over 350 million years longer than the dinosaurs!
The excited group then moved onboard a covered pontoon boat for a Nature & Sea Life Cruise on the calm waters of Tarpon Bay. Steve donned his captain’s hat and drove the boat while he and Donna continued to thrill the group with fascinating stories about the wildlife and habitat within the refuge. LARC members took turns helping Donna present props including a Red Mangrove propagule, manatee and dolphin ribs. Numerous varieties of birds, Florida manatees, and probably the overall group favorite bottlenose dolphins – all made an appearance during the trip.
After the hour-long boat excursion, the group was treated to an abundant meal of fried chicken with all the trimmings by Bailey’s General Store. Owners Richard and Mead Johnson were happy to serve the group, and by the lack of leftovers, the group was equally as happy to partake.
Full bellies and the warm sun didn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm for their next adventure a tram tour of the refuge’s Wildlife Drive led again by Team Yetsko. The group sighted numerous wading birds, including the illusive and colorful reddish egret. A horseshoe crab meandering in the shallow waters was immediately recognized by several LARC members. Donna enticed the group to be on the lookout for alligators and although none were spotted, the group enjoyed the “hunt” just as much.
It was a memorable day not only for LARC members but for everyone involved. At the end of the tram tour, driver Steve Yetsko relayed to the group just how much he and his wife Donna enjoyed spending time with them, and sincerely hoped they would be back next year.
“I love doing this,” explained Donna, “they are so appreciative of every little thing.”
It was hard to tell who was smiling more.