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Get the scoop on ‘Ding’ Darling’s free programs

By Staff | Jun 22, 2016

A refuge ranger takes a look at something a camper found on the beach. Chelle Koster Walton

This summer, the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge reintroduced their free programs to the public. The free summer programs began on June 19 and will conclude on Aug. 6.

The programs will be on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Leigh Gay, a nature explorers day camp leader, is most excited about the family beach walk program.

“The beach walk is every Friday after June 19. It’s really cool and it’s going to be led by one of our interns. They’re going to talk about sea turtles, help you identify shells and answer questions about beach life, plus you get to spend the morning on the beach,” Gay said.

The group will meet at 9 a.m. at Sanibel’s Gulfside City Park. Please note that parking fees at the park do apply.

The kids enjoyed arts and crafts time after the Reading in the Refuge program. Chelle Koster Walton

Gay has been at the refuge since November. She started as a visitors service intern then worked her way up to a nature explorers day camp leader. She’s the head of the Nature Explorers Day Camp, which began on June 20.

This year, they brought back Wildlife Wonders, which takes place on Saturdays at 11 a.m. in the Visitor & Education Center. The lecture lasts about a half hour.

“It’s different every week. It’s led by a staff member, or an intern and they pick the subject they want to talk about,” she said.

Their Wednesday morning program, Reading in the Refuge, which takes place at 10 a.m. is a favorite among children and adults alike.

“It’s inside, it’s in the air conditioning, so it’s not too crazy hot. Either a ranger or an intern will read a book. They usually have a powerpoint to make it interactive. After that, they do a craft. So, if the book was based on owls, they’ll do a little owl craft,” Gay said.

A ranger explained the importance of mangroves to a family during the Indigo Trail Walk program. Chelle Koster Walton

During the Indigo Trail Walk program, which is offered on Thursdays at 10 a.m., a naturalist will lead a group to discuss Sanibel’s diverse ecosystem of plant and animal species.

“We’ll talk about sea grapes, and of course mangrove trees, which are really essential to protecting Sanibel and other barrier islands from hurricanes or storm surges. We’ll also talk about plants Native Americans used like white stopper and the gumbo limbo tree. They actually used to peel off the bark and wet it a little so they could use it as a band-aid for a little cut,” she said.

Gay said the trail walk makes people stop and look at the little things. Each program usually has around 10 attendees since they are generally slow during the summer time.

For more information on the refuge summer programs, call 472-1100, ext. 236 or visit dingdarlingsociety.org

A ranger led kids for an early morning walk. Chelle Koster Walton