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‘Ding’ target of new visitors a success

By Staff | Oct 29, 2014

Refuge officials want new visitors to the national parkland run by the US Department of Interior. Jay Norwood Darling is the Refuge’s namesake. PHOTO PROVED

A marketing effort by an island landmark is paying dividends.

Using social media, direct marketing to local radio and other outreach tools, officials with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge are reporting a sharp uptick in the number of Hispanics visiting the parkland.

Marketing the wildlife refuge to nontraditional visitors is not new – the Ding has activity book and guide literature in Spanish and several other non-English languages – but the latest effort is a more determined campaign to bring minorities to the 5,200-acre refuge, said Birgie Miller, executive director the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, the education and outreach arm of the federally managed Refuge. The Refuge has also for years paid to transport and attract children from underprivileged neighborhoods over the school year. The idea is to introduce the youngsters to new experiences, part of a federal effort in every state, Miller said. Ding photo contests have also been targeted to minority youngsters not always exposed to such opportunities.

Locally, the Refuge this year, for instance, marketed its popular “Ding” Darling Days in part to Hispanics, targeting advertising to a popular Latino radiostation, 97.7 FM. The marketing was focused on family events; crafting, facepainting, wildlife tours, live-animal shows, giveaways and fun events that can get costly and were free over Ding Days that started Oct. 19. The radiostation also had a remote air personality at the Refuge to provide live updates, Miller said.

Ding Darling Days was pinpointed because a Refuge visit outside special events can get pricey, Miller said, including the $6 causeway toll. The Refuge also asked a worker who speaks Spanish to use social media to outreach Southwest Florida Hispanics.

And the effort to diversify the Ding seems to have paid off, Miller said, which is part of the US Department of Interior’s national campaign at its 562 wildlife refuges. Informal surveys during Ding Darling Days reported larger showings of Hispanics at craft tents and other activities, she said.

The Department of Interior’s goal, Miller said, is to “engage the entire (US) population,” she said. “And to introduce the beauty of the outdoors. And to have (more Americans) advocate for wildlife.”