Entryway of ‘Ding’ Visitor & Education Center receives renovations
By MEGHAN McCOY
The entryway of the Visitor & Education Center at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has undergone a transformation providing a welcoming, informative environment for individuals as they first enter the center.
Executive Director Birgie Miller said the renovation is the first of its magnitude since the Visitor & Education Center was built in 1999. Throughout the years exhibits have been added to the building.
“It’s a timeless center,” she said, adding that it remains a fabulous place that works great for the visitors.
The funds, which were private monies collected by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society from the 2013 Preservation Capital Campaign, paid for the renovation.
“The Society continues to enhance the building,” Miller said, adding that they find private dollars to make improvements on the center because they love the refuge’s mission.
With nearly a million people traveling through “Ding” and a quarter of a million making use of the free Visitor & Education Center, ideas and designs for enhancements and improvements for the entrance began taking shape more than a year ago.
“We are very excited about this new entryway and how much more attractive it is for our visitors,” Wildlife Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik said.
The improvements to the entrance were made, he said, because they wanted to improve their visitors’ first impression while entering the center, as well as providing information in a friendly way.
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said when she began designing the renovations about a year ago with Multi Media Marketing personnel, the design included thoughts and ideas from staff and members of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society.
“It’s simpler and directs people in the right direction,” Tritaik said of the nice flow the entrance now has.
As visitors enter the center they will see panels that read “Be Captivated,” “Be Motivated” and “Be a Friend,” all placed on a beautiful wrapped wall of photos of some of the wildlife to be seen at the refuge. The volunteer desk received a makeover using recycled material. The desk, Westland said, is a little more rounded to resemble the flow of the space.
On the far corner of the desk, rows of pamphlets, as well as free kids’ activity books are placed for visitors to grab. Westland said the books are now located at eye level for the kids to take if they so choose.
The entrance also includes a 65-inch LED flatscreen television that advertises what individuals can do while visiting “Ding.” Tritaik said it draws individuals’ eyes to what they can expect to see at the refuge.
The television will begin to inform individuals while they are waiting for their turn to speak with the volunteers at the front desk during busy times.
“This will allow them to get information while waiting for a volunteer,” he said, all the while giving them “a feeling of what it’s like to get outdoors and enjoy nature.”
Westland said her goal is to include a map of the entire refuge system across the United States, so both residents and visitors can see where each is located. She said she wants someone from Ohio to look at the map and say, “Wow, there’s that many in Ohio.”
After exiting the front entryway, a new interactive station will further grab individuals’ attention outside of the gift center. Individuals can now electronically swipe their credit card to donate to the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society. Another screen allows visitors to check out the refuge’s social media sites. The final screen features EBirds, an electronic tracking system of birds. Westland said visitors can see what others are spotting at the refuge, as well as hear the different birding calls.
The renovations received final touches Friday, Sept. 18.
Multi Media Marketing President and CEO Jose Luya said the renovations began the second week of September. He said they first built the wall before the new desk was installed and the counter was cut and fabricated. The wallpaper was then installed before panels were attached to the wall.
“It should be wrapped up today,” Luya said Sept. 18.
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