Free programs at ‘Ding’ Darling are back
Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 2 through April 8, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will host free tours and activities for the public every day of the week.
The free programs will showcase birds and wildlife, endangered species, nature photography, florida manatees, gators and crocodiles, birds of the refuge, Florida’s venomous wildlife and reptiles and amphibians. Their newest program will focus on horseshoe crabs.
The horseshoe crab program will take place on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. in the Visitor & Education Center. Jack and Patty Wettstein’s presentation will discuss the early uses of horseshoe crabs, their spawning, the shorebird migration dependence on horseshoe crabs and their medical uses.
“The horseshoe crab’s blue blood has the ability to clot as a protection against infection,” Patty Wettstein said. “The human medical field is greatly reliant on the horseshoe crab’s blue blood.”
Each week, the couple will emphasize a different biological aspect about the horseshoe crab with supporting materials. Wettstein said that the horseshoe crab is one of the Earth’s oldest creatures.
“(They’re) 445 million years old. Horseshoe crabs are older than dinosaurs,” she said.
Patty and her husband have volunteered at “Ding” Darling for the past eight years.
“We feel very blessed to have this opportunity to inform visitors of the importance of this eco-system that supports so many species of wildlife,” she said.
Other programs include birding the refuge, a biking the refuge tour, story and wildlife wonders, an Indigo Trail walk, a Bailey Tract tour, a Calusa shell mound tour and a beach walk. The daily programs begin at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up in the afternoon.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said that because their beach walks were so popular, the refuge decided to hold them on Sundays as well.
“Our beach walks are always well attended. We’ll meet at Gulfside City Park at the new kiosk,” Westland said. “The program is key for families.”
Some of the programs will include Wildlife Drive admission fees. The cost is $5 per vehicle and $1 for bikers/pedestrians. Parking fees also apply at Gulfside City Park for the beach walk.
For the full list of programs, go to dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/free-refuge-programs.