Refuge to offer beach clean up, free film and more
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will celebrate National Public Lands Day and Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day with some special activities, plus free admission to Wildlife Drive.
On Sept. 28, the refuge will host a morning beach clean up at the Perry Tract, followed by a free afternoon film screening of “The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida” in the Visitor & Education Center. The daily entrance fees to Wildlife Drive, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also will be waived.
“Refuges and public lands all around the United States celebrate this day,” refuge Ranger Monica Scroggin said, adding that national monuments and parks also are spotlighted. “It’s a day to celebrate the land that we have that’s been conserved for the wildlife and to clean it up and really beautify.”
A signature event of the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day promotes recreational enjoyment and volunteer conservation of public lands. Designated a fee-free day by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWS also celebrates Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day.
The Sanibel refuge is considered among the 101 urban refuges out of more than 560 total across the United States because of its proximity to a municipality and its nearly 1 million annual visitors.
Admission to Wildlife Drive normally costs $1 for bikers and walkers and $5 per vehicle.
“It’s another way to get out to your public lands and enjoy the wildlife,” she said of the waived fees.
Scroggin suggested visiting early in the morning or in the early evening.
“You’ll see roseate spoonbills before 8 a.m. at the tower, plus snakes and alligators and turtles and plenty of birds,” she said. “Definitely biking is a great way to see it. You can also walk it.”
“It gets you out of your car and you see lots of things when you stop,” Scroggin added.
Bringing a camera to take photos or binoculars is recommended.
Other ways to enjoy Wildlife Drive are fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding. In addition, Tarpon Bay Explorers will run the narrated tram tours at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. at their normal cost.
To reserve a tram tour, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com.
“You can also go on Indigo Trail, which is part of Wildlife Drive, which is walking and biking only,” she said.
From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., refuge staff will lead the clean up of its Perry Tract area, located adjacent to Gulfside City Park Beach. Participants will get a nationwide Public Lands Pass, good for one year.
“We chose to do a beach clean up because it’s so important,” Scroggin said. “There’s a lot of pollution on our ocean.”
While the event is free to take part in, city parking fees will apply.
Those unable to attend can post a picture of themselves on social media cleaning up a local public land and use hashtag #NPLD, then email the photo to Toni_Westland@fws.gov to receive their free pass.
“We know that a lot of people come to ‘Ding’ Darling and visit on vacation,” she said. “We want to get them involved, as well.”
The refuge will provide bags to collect the trash; participants are welcome to bring gloves.
“We’ll probably be finding a lot of bottle caps and cigarette butts,” Scroggin said. “Sometimes we find straws, but with straws being banned on Sanibel hopefully we won’t find too many of those.”
She added that they may find an occasional water bottle, but hopefully no balloons.
“They get mistaken as jellyfish and sea turtles consume them,” Scroggin said.
At 1 p.m., the documentary “The Forgotten Coast” will be shown in the center, which is always admission free and opens at 9 a.m. Following in the footsteps of a Florida black bear, three modern-day explorers leave civilization and enter a lost American wilderness on a rugged 1,000-mile journey by foot, paddle and bike. The expedition encounters stunning and rare wildlife in a fragile corridor stretching from the Everglades to the Florida-Alabama border.
“This film is going over how important natural areas are and public lands for them to be conserved for the wildlife,” she said. “That’s something we’re trying to tie into National Public Lands Day.”
“And it takes place in Florida, so they can definitely relate,” Scroggin added.
Premiered in 2017, the PBS film captures manatees, alligators, ancient river fish and endangered woodpeckers. On the wind, in the waves, through the trees and under the stars, “The Forgotten Coast” offers a chance not just to look back in time, but to look forward to a future filled with new hope.
In addition, Tarpon Bay Explorers the refuge’s recreation concession will offer a 25 percent discount throughout the day on bicycle, kayak and paddleboard rentals starting at 8 a.m. It also will offer 25 percent off an 8:30 a.m. guided kayak tour; reservations are recommended for the tour.
Residents and visitors are encouraged to come out.
“It’s going to be a fun day filled with lots of activities,” she said. “It’s a great way for all of us to get together and celebrate our public lands at an actual public land.”
For more information, contact Ranger Monica Scroggin at 239-472-1100 ext. 237.
For more on Tarpon Bay Explorers, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com or call 239-472-8900.