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‘Ding’ Darling Days set for this October

By Staff | Aug 12, 2015

The IBEX Puppertry Troupe will make an appearance during “Ding” Darling Days at noon Sunday, Oct. 18, at J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. PHOTO PROVIDED

Final touches are taking place for a jam packed week of fun for all ages this October at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

“Oct. 21 is (Jay N.) Ding’s birthday, so it makes it extra special,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said of the 26th annual “Ding” Darling Days scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 24.

She said “Ding” Darling Days started with just one day as a way to connect with the community during National Wildlife Refuge week. The initial one day event turned into a week long celebration featuring an array of repeat activities, as well as a few new events sprinkled in throughout the week.

Westland referred to the annual “Ding” Darling Days as “big, better and beyond,” due to the daily themed activities, many of which are free of charge.

“Ding” Darling Days will kick off with a free Family Fun Day, a day valued at $75, on Sunday, Oct. 18.

“The day is amazing,” Westland said of the value. “It’s a free, fun thing to do with the kids.”

One of the day’s highlights features Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, and her Orlando based IBEX Puppetry troupe. The troupe will make its first appearance at noon Sunday, Oct. 18, under the tent. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the troupe and their puppets, as well as play the performers musical instruments, following the performance and throughout the day until 4 p.m. in the Endangered Species Garden.

Heather’s program features an interactive element with life-sized puppets of endangered species made from recycled material.

Over the last four years, IBEX has created a crocodile and pollination puppet for the Family Fun Day.

“We’re always adding new elements to our presentations,” IBEX Manager Frank Ramirez said in a prepared statement. “We especially look forward to presenting at “Ding” Darling because we love it so much there. We usually add at least one new refuge creature each year to debut at “Ding” Days.”

Westland said Heather’s group will visit fourth grade classrooms with the life-sized puppets to get kids excited about the Family Fun Day.

“It is Heather’s mission to tour this around Florida’s parks, refuges and wildlife conservation areas because of her avid interest in wetlands and whooping crane migrations and protection,” Ramirez said. “We do it because we love educating and love people’s reaction to the puppets.”

Monday, Oct. 19, dubbed “Pollinator Day,” features such free activities as a pollinator walk with Ranger Becky, refuge birds and wildlife tour caravan, “Vanishing of the Bees” film, a Bunche Beach birding tram and deck talk.

Tuesday’s theme “Beach and Water Day,” will include a beach walk at Perry Tract, stand-up paddleboard clinics, refuge and wildlife tour caravan, the courtship of great blue herons presentation, deck talk and refuge reddish egrets tracking study with Dr. Kenneth Meyer, all free of charge.

“Eco-Innovation Day” is Wednesday, Oct. 21 theme. The day of free activities entail refuge birds and wildlife tour craven, Let’s Go Geo-caching with Ken and Ginny Kopperl, deck talk and discover Ding game app tour of Wildlife Drive.

The fun filled “Calusa Day” will be held Thursday, Oct. 22 with such free activities as refuge birds and wildlife tour caravan, the Calusa Culture by Parke Lewis, deck talk, Calusa: Flourishing through Flora by Cindy Bear and a free walk with the Calusa by Jack and Patty Wettstein.

Friday, Oct. 23 will celebrate “Trails Day” with a slew of free activities including a scat and tracks program, refuge bike tour, animal Olympics games at Bailey Tract and deck talk.

The week long activities will conclude with a Conservation Art Day Saturday, Oct. 24.

The day of festivities includes meeting the champions of the Junior Duck Stamp, Federal Duck Stamp and State Junior Duck Stamp winners.

The first 200 kids to attend the Conservation Art Day will receive a bag with art supplies.

The day will also include creating a picture of a sand dollar on a canvas with Painting With a Twist. Westland said the sand dollar portrait is available to the first 20 kids who reserves a spot.

For a complete schedule of activities and times, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.