The 29th annual “Ding” Darling Days starts Oct. 15, features new activities
By MEGHAN McCOY
The 29th annual “Ding” Darling Days includes a handful of new events this year guaranteed to grab both the young and older generation’s attention for a fun family outing.
The annual “Ding” Darling Days is held to honor their namesake, Jay Norwood Darling, as well as celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week.
“It’s to honor the Duck Stamp artists, Ding Darling, the National Wildlife Refuge week and awareness of what refuges are,” J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said of why the event is held. “It’s a time where there are not a lot of people. But, why not then invite the locals.”
The same as years prior, Westland said they have sprinkled in new activities throughout the week.
“That’s what makes people want to come back and keep learning,” she said.
The event will kick off Sunday, Oct. 15, with a Family Fun Day, complete with the Lee County VCB’s Shell Love Bug making an appearance. Another highlight, the refuge’s Monofilament Busters will be on hand to exchange environmentally friendly fishing gear for lead weights and jigs that people turn in to them.
The Florida WaterVentures Traveling Lab will also be on hand both Sunday, Oct. 15, and Monday, Oct. 16.
“They are going to be there the next day too because kids will be out of school. Both Lee and Collier County kids are out of school. We need to get kids here,” Westland said.
The Family Fun Day also includes live animal presentations, Refuge tram tours, introduction to archery clinics, fly-fishing demos, Butterfly House, hands-on nature crafts and hot dogs. There will be free goodie bags handed out to the first 500 attendees during Family Fun Day.
“There is something for everybody, and it’s free,” Westland said. “The trams are free on the Family Fun Day. They fill up fast. This whole day is a $75 value.”
The Sunday event will be held from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On Monday, Oct. 16, “Let’s Go On a Hike Day,” will celebrate the new sign at the Bailey Tract through a scavenger hunt. The hunt entails walking around the Bailey Tract, answering questions from the new signs while learning something.
“The gift is a recycled bird feeder. It washes clean because you want to keep it clean, so birds don’t get diseases. It tells the kids when to fill it. You can hang it from a tree and you can be birding from your house,” Westland said. “We know that bird watching in your backyard, hopefully creates good stewards.”
She said it is all about getting the families out to learn something, while taking a gift home to “become citizen scientists as a family. They can then keep track of the birds they are seeing.”
The day also includes Animal Olympics, which incorporates signs that encourages kids to move like a specific animal.
“Jump as far as a bobcat,” Westland said. “Right now it’s staked into the ground wherever we want to put it. It’s kind of nice that it is mobile.”
Also on Monday, “The Lorax” will be showing, as well as storytime, all free of charge.
Themed activities will be held throughout the week for “Ding” Darling Days, all free of charge.
New this year during “Beach and Water Day” is a horseshoe crab presentations with hands-on clinics, Tuesday, Oct. 17.
“We will have a beach walk at the Perry Tract,” Westland said. “People are going to come and learn about horseshoe crabs, the importance of them. This is a creature that is very misunderstood. They help us in the medical field testing medicine. Their blood helps us survive for blood thinners.”
Two volunteers, who have been trained up north, will lead the hands-on clinics. Attendees can go through stations while learning about horseshoe crabs.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, “Bees and Butterflies Day,” will include the film “Wings of Life,” as well as “What’s the Buzz?” bee presentation.
The following day, Thursday, Oct. 19 will focus on “Calusa Day,” which Westland said is always well attended. The activities will include Making Calusa Mounds of Midden program, as well as a guided tour of the Calusa Shell Mound Trail.
Although the Wednesday and Thursday themed events are the same as last year, Westland said it will feature different presenters, offering a different program.
Friday, Oct. 20 will be “Duck Stamp Day” featuring free all day Wildlife Drive admission for bikers and hikers, a Wildlife Drive ranger biking tour and the showing of the documentary “Million Dollar Duck.”
The event concludes with Conservation Art on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Five-time Federal Duck Stamp winner Jim Hautman will speak, as well as sign his 2017-2018 stamps. The junior winner will also be in attendance, from Virginia, as well as the Florida winner.
“You can meet them on art day,” Westland said.
The Saturday event also includes free admission to Wildlife Drive and plain-air artists, Duck Stamp winners presentations, make and take painting workshop and nature photography tram tour.
Painting with a Twist will be in attendance. Westland said the first 25 kids will have the opportunity to paint their own canvas.
The free art bag, given to the first 200 guests, is made out of recycled plastic bottles and includes a field journal to get people to date what they are seeing, monarch seeds (native milkweed), cray pas and a charcoal pencil.
A cake will also be served on Saturday in honor of “Ding” Darling’s 141st birthday.
“We sing (Happy Birthday) every year and have cake,” Westland said.
For the full schedule, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com, or call (239) 472-1100.