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Tours, programs and activities planned at refuge

By Staff | Oct 15, 2019

JOEY WAVES Python hunter Dusty Crum.

As the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary, staff have planned all the best traditions of its annual eco-festival into one day of family-oriented and conservation art activities, tours and programs.

The 31st annual “Ding” Darling Day will take place on Oct. 20 throughout the day.

“Historically, ‘Ding’ Darling Day is to celebrate two things – ‘Ding’ Darling’s birthday in October, plus National Wildlife Refuge Week,” refuge Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said.

Typically held over a few days, this year’s event will take place on one day.

“I’m super excited. Everybody can get a taste of something on one day,” she said, noting there are activities for all ages. “It’s not like you have to have a kid. There’s literally something for everybody.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Archery lessons put bows and arrows in the hands of older kids.

Westland also pointed out the time of year.

“It’s starting to cool off, but it’s not season quite yet,” she said. “So the local people can come and enjoy, and they don’t have to fight the crowds. So it celebrates the locals, too.”

The day begins early with guided refuge tours. Senior Biologist Jeremy Conrad will lead an 8 a.m. birding tour on Indigo Trail. At 9 a.m., a four-mile Bike the Refuge Tour will travel down Wildlife Drive and Indigo Trail. Two tours will take visitors on an Indigo Trail hike: one in Spanish at 10 a.m. and another in English at 11 a.m. All four tours will meet at the flagpole in the refuge’s parking lot.

“That’s new this year and it’s because we’re combining the day,” Westland said.

She noted that the Conrad’s tour is like a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Refuge educators will lead two interpretive Indigo Trail hikes — one in Spanish and one in English.

There will be free admission to Wildlife Drive, and the Tarpon Bay Explorers will do free one-hour narrated tram tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reserve a spot early by checking in at the tram booth.

Westland highlighted the new tour offered in Spanish.

“We’re hoping to get people that might not normally come,” she said.

There will be live wildlife presentations outside under the “big top,” showcasing snakes and animal ambassadors from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. Celebrity Burmese python hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum and biologist Mike Kirkland will talk about the havoc the species is wreaking on the Everglades; there will be no snakes at the presentation in the Visitor & Education Center auditorium.

In addition, the Refuge Nature Store will sell an assortment of wallets, coin purses and other handmade gifts produced by Crum and his partner from the skins of the invasive non-native pythons captured.

PHOTO PROVIDED Chalk drawing demonstration and participation is one of the art activities planned for this year’s “Ding” Darling Day.

“It’s educational and you can purchase something,” Westland said.

Traveling from Minnesota, two-time Federal Duck Stamp winner Scot Storm will headline the “Ding” Darling Day Duck Stamp Presentation from 1 to 1:45 p.m. He also will sign stamps following the presentation. In addition, Florida Junior Duck Stamp winner Anna Grace Swanson from Titusville will be on hand for a meet-and-greet.

“You can get your Duck Stamp signed,” she said.

“There is literally something for everyone with presentations,” Westland added.

Throughout the day, activities include chalk drawing, guided nature sketching along Indigo Trail, an iPhone photography walk, touch tank, face painting, kid’s nature crafts, puppet shows, individual take-home canvas painting, nature art demonstrations, plein air artists on Wildlife Drive and nature crafts.

PHOTO PROVIDED Mike Kirkland, manager of the python elimination program for the South Florida Water Management District.

“New is wildlife origami. We’ve had yoga for kids in the past, which has been a success,” she said. “People love the butterfly house.”

There will be clinics on archery and fishing, plus local public safety vehicles on display.

“We’re having a whole new outdoor skills area,” Westland said.

She noted that there will be over 30 nature-based exhibitors, including the Lee County Bookmobile.

“We have the most exhibitors we’ve ever had come,” Westland said.

Live music will be provided by the Americana Community Music Association.

“The band was a success last year, so we’ve got a band,” she said. “It really adds to the festivities.”

Refuge officials estimate the value of free activities at $75 for a family of four.

The refuge’s official recreation concession, Tarpon Bay Explorers will offer a 25 percent discount on its kayak and boating tours throughout the day. Reservations are recommended by calling 239-472-8900.

In addition, it will offer free stand-up paddleboarding clinics in the morning. Continuous free shuttle service will run between the TBE and the refuge’s Tram Parking Lot on Sanibel-Captiva Road.

Westland noted that TBE will have its touch tanks open.

The day’s schedule is as follows:

– 8 a.m.: Birding tour with Senior Refuge Biologist Jeremy Conrad, meet at EC flagpole

– 9 a.m.: Flag-Raising at EC flagpole, followed by “Ding” Birthday Celebration in the event tent

– 9 a.m. to noon: Free stand-up paddleboard clinic, TBE

– 9:30 a.m.: Guided Bike the Refuge tour (four miles), meet at EC flagpole

– 10 a.m.: Guided nature hike on Indigo Trail in Spanish, meet at EC flagpole

– 10 a.m.: “Ding” Darling Day Amateur Photo Contest awards, EC auditorium

– 10 a.m.: Live animals presentation by CROW, event tent

– 10 a.m.: Nature sketching on Indigo Trail (limited to 40), meet at EC flagpole

– 10 a.m.: Wildlife yoga by Ambu Yoga, EC classroom

– 10 a.m.: 25 percent off guided Commodore Creek Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

– 11 a.m.: Python talk, EC auditorium

– 11 a.m.: Puppet show by Littleton Elementary, EC classroom

– 11 a.m.: Guided nature hike on Indigo Trail in English, meet at EC flagpole

– 11 a.m.: 25 percent off Nature & Sealife Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

– Noon: Kids canvas painting (limited to 20), EC classroom

– Noon: Grades 5-8 Cartoon Contest awards, EC auditorium

– 1 p.m.: Federal and Junior Duck Stamp presentation, EC auditorium

– 1 p.m.: Wildlife origami, EC classroom

– 1 p.m.: 25 percent off guided Commodore Creek Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

– 1:30 p.m.: 25 percent off Nature & Sealife Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

– 2 p.m.: Snakes Alive! presentation, event tent

– 2 p.m.: Puppet show by Littleton Elementary, EC classroom

– 3 p.m.: Live animals presentation by CROW, event tent

– 5 p.m.: 25 percent off Evening Cruise, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

– 5 p.m.: 25 percent off Sunset Rookery Paddle, TBE (reserve at 239-472-8900)

*EC = “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center

*TBE = Tarpon Bay Explorers

In addition, the following are free and continuous throughout the day:

– Parking at Special Events Parking site and Tarpon Bay Explorers

– Shuttle service

– Hourly Wildlife Drive tram tours, check in at Tram Booth

– Naturalist-narrated, 60-minute tram tours (check in at tram booth upon arrival)

– Plein-air artists on Wildlife Drive

– Face painting

– Chalk drawing

– Butterfly house

– Live music

– Hot dogs

– U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emergency response vehicles and demonstrations

– Archery demonstrations, adjacent to overflow parking lot

– Fly-fishing demonstrations

– Fishing workshop

– Hands-on nature crafts

– Informational booths with giveaways

The public is encouraged to come out.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Westland said. “This is the one day where everything is free. It’s the one time everything is in one stop, and it’s super fun.”

“Come celebrate with us,” she added.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and TBE co-present “Ding” Darling Day with generous support from the local community and businesses.

For more information, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com or call 239-472-1100 ext. 237.

For more about TBE or reservations, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com.

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