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Celebrating our planet

By Staff | Apr 17, 2019

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will celebrate Earth Day with activities for all.

In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge will offer a mix of tours and programs, a showing of films, arts and crafts, refuge clean up and more on April 22.

In addition, bicyclists and hikers can enjoy Wildlife Drive for free from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“This year is a little different than years in the past,” Ranger Monica Scroggin said, explaining that students in the Lee County School District do not have school. “And, it’s the actual Earth Day.”

So, the refuge has planned more programs and activities than it has before for visitors of all ages, with an emphasis on environmentally-friendly practices that people can implement in their everyday lives.

“We thought we could reach more families coming out to the refuge,” she said.

Last year, hundreds were estimated to have stopped by for Earth Day.

“It was definitely a success – it’s toward the end of season, so we try to get as many people as we can,” Scroggin said. “Hopefully, this year we can get more people because there is no school.”

For those looking to visit Wildlife Drive, admission is free for bikers and hikers.

“It’s normally a dollar per person,” she said.

The admission for vehicles will be the typical $5 each.

“They can keep their receipt and come in the morning,”Scroggin said, explaining that the receipt is always valid for the entire day it was paid. “They then can come again more toward the evening.”

But, getting out on foot is recommended as more wildlife is typically seen.

“You really get to immerse yourself in the refuge,” she said.

For those without a bicycle, just stop by Tarpon Bay Explorers and pick up a rental.

TBE will also offer guided tram tours of Wildlife Drive.

Those who ride their bikes to Tarpon Bay Explorers will receive a free gift.

As for the programming schedule for Earth Day, the morning will kick off with a free Biking the Refuge Tour from 9 to 11 a.m. on Wildlife Drive and the Indigo Trail loop. Learn about bird life and ecology at the refuge from a naturalist. Meet at the flagpole at the Visitor and Education Center.

“They’re also going to be collecting trash along the way,” Scroggin said.

From 9:30 to 11 a.m., there will be a Birds and Wildlife Tour. Following along on a car caravan, the tour will highlight the mangrove ecosystem and wildlife that reside in the area. The normal $5 entrance fee to Wildlife Drive will apply per vehicle. Participants will meet at the flagpole outside the center.

There will be a Beach Walk from 10 to 11 a.m. Learn about the vital beach ecosystem with a guided exploration of the Perry Tract. Meet at the Gulfside City Park on Algiers Lane; parking fees will apply.

During the walk, microtrash, soda bottle caps, cigarette butts and such will be collected.

“We’re actually going to report that data to the Ocean Conservancy,” she said.

Scroggin explained that microtrash is mostly pieces of plastic, such as from a soda or water bottle, that have broken down or decomposed into smaller particles after being exposed to the sun and elements.

“Which can sometimes be consumed by animals or used for nesting,” she said, adding that it is normally the type of plastic found inside of whales, fish and other marine animals.

From 11 a.m. to noon, visitors can take part in a free photo walk along the Indigo Trail.

Meet at the flagpole in front of the center.

“It’s just another way for us to show people how they can enjoy nature,” Scroggin said.

“It’s another huge initiative right now, conservation through photographs,” she added. “When you actually start taking pictures of wildlife, you really start sitting and watching and learning.”

A free Horseshoe Crabs Program will be held from 11 to 11:30 a.m. inside of the center. Learn why the “living fossil” is not a “true crab” and its importance to migrating shorebirds and the medical field.

From 1 to 1:30 p.m., a Gators and Crocs Program will cover crocodiles, gharials, alligators and caimans. Learn how to identify families and local species for free. Meet at the Crossdike Pavilion.

An Earth Day first for the refuge, a public clean up will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

“In the past we’ve done it with groups, like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but we’ve never incorporated it into our Earth Day,” Scroggin said, adding that the site will be decided that day.

“We’re going to be providing gloves,” she said. “We’re going to be using brown paper bags.”

Those interested in participating will meet at the flagpole at the center. Scroggin recommended that they be prepared by bringing a reusable water bottle and wearing a hat, sunscreen and bug spray.

“Everything is first come, first served,” she said of the planned programming.

Throughout the day, a series of films will be shown in the center, with discussions to follow.

Each is limited to 100 people, so people should grab a seat early.

The films being shown are:

  • “Straws” at 9 a.m.
  • “Bag It” at 10 a.m.
  • “Addicted to Plastic” at 1 p.m.
  • “Plastic Paradise” at 2 p.m.

Scroggin explained that plastic is the theme of the series. The various short films cover the different types of plastic, their impacts on the environment and alternatives to using them for consumers.

“And how they can inspire others maybe to stop using plastic or one-use items,” she said.

Also inside of the center, recycled Earth crafts will be offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We’re going to be doing all kinds of different crafts to give people ideas to take something they have at home and turn it into art or something they can use again instead of throwing it away,” Scroggin said.

“So, what people can do with what they have,” she added.

For example, one project is how to turn tennis tubes into a way to collect trash.

“Definitely all ages are welcome,” Scroggin said.

Bagzilla, one of the refuge’s characters, will also make an appearance.

“It shows how many bags an average American consumer uses in a year,” she said. “It’s a good visual of our usage and shocks a lot of people.”

“Hopefully, it will be less one day and we won’t even have to have Bagzilla,” Scroggin added.

Islanders and visitors are encouraged to spend Earth Day at the refuge.

“It’s a great day to come and participate in free programs and films that are all revolving around the concept of conserving and protecting our Earth for future generations to enjoy,” she said.

“And it’s free, free, free,” Scroggin added.

For additional information, contact Ranger Monica Scroggin at 239-472-1110, extension 249, or visit www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.

For more about TBE, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com or call 239-472-8900.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive.

Tarpon Bay Explorers is at 900 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel.