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‘Ding’ Darling Days kicks off Sunday with a day of free activities

By Staff | Oct 14, 2015

The Blue Goose will make an hourly appearance during the Family Fun Day Sunday, Oct. 18. PHOTO PROVIDED

An array of activities, many of which are free, are sure to excite both young and old, during the annual “Ding” Darling Days, which kicks off this weekend.

“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.

“Ding” Darling Days will kick off with a free Family Fun Day, a day valued at $75, on Sunday, Oct. 18. A flag raising ceremony will begin the day at 10:45 a.m. and countless free programs will follow.

Westland said there will be different live animals featured every hour on Sunday.

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.

One of the new programs, A Flutter About Native Butterflies, is offered at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

The first 500 attendees that visit “Ding” after the butterfly program will receive a bag of goodies.

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.

Westland said the pollinator day, which is new this year, is important because pollinators are important to nature. The program, All A-Buzz about Bees, will be offered from 1 to 2 p.m. on Monday. The first 50 arrivals will receive a free pollinator plant.

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 and deck talk, all free of charge.

A new event during “Beach and Water Day,” Westland said will feature Dr. Kenneth Meyer from Avian Research and Conservation Institute. He will provide a presentation about the refuge reddish egrets tracking study from 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“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.

Westland said a cake and viewing of “America’s Darling” film will be shown Wednesday, Oct. 21, in honor of “Ding” Darling’s birthday.

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.

Westland said Wildlife Drive will be open Friday for hikers and bikers only. The drive is free of charge on Oct. 23.

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.

In addition, on the first and last day of “Ding” Days a special silly photo booth will be available. Westland said the photos will be instantly posted to their Facebook page.

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

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.