Time running out to double donation toward WoW
The deadline is drawing closer for a grant challenge that will match donations to help fund the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Wildlife on Wheels – WoW – educational project.
Earlier this year, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge announced that it had received an anonymous offer to help raise extra monies to make its proposed mobile outreach trailer a reality. The grant challenge will match donations made by Dec. 31 dollar for dollar, up to $50,000.
DDWS Development Officer Sierra Hoisington explained that it will cost an estimated $300,000 to bring the WoW project to fruition, with the funds to cover the design and construction of the trailer, the purchase of a heavy-duty truck to pull it and the hiring of a part-time bilingual educator to utilize it.
As of Dec. 13, the donations received were nearing the cap set by the grant challenge.
“We have about $2,000 left to raise,” she said of hitting the $50,000 mark.
Hoisington explained that if the DDWS reaches the $50,000 before January, which would translate into $100,000 thanks to the challenge, up to another $75,000 would be needed to fully fund the initiative.
The WoW project began with an anonymous $100,000 family grant.
The mobile initiative aims to reach the underserved communities in the five-county area.
“We bus out 5,000 school kids every year to the refuge,” she said. “But there’s 180,000-plus school kids within that five-county region that are enrolled, so we’re not reaching all of those kids.”
Hoisington added that a lot of the students are spending an hour up to an hour and a half on the bus because of the time it takes to travel out to Sanibel, so their time spent at the refuge is cut shorter.
“So there’s not all the time in the world for them to spend at Ding,” she said.
The idea for the project stemmed from a similar one officials observed at another refuge.
The WoW trailer will feature learning stations that interpret mangrove ecosystems, water quality, water conservation, pollution and plastic, animal scats and tracks, native animals, wildlife sounds and more.
Hoisington explained that the walk-though trailer will have an entrance and exist and will be divided into the four habitat types represented at the Sanibel refuge, with a “wet side” and a “dry side.” The wet side will consist of estuaries to the ocean, while the dry side will feature coastal shoreline to uplands.
“It will contain interactive and interesting exhibits, such as scat panels or mystery boxes,” she said, explaining that there will be hands-on learning and more. “It’ll be tactical and very engaging.”
Refuge staffers are working with Lee County teachers and a team of volunteers to draw on classroom knowledge to design the exhibits and programs to complement Florida’s educational requirements.
Hoisington noted that the project will match K-12 curriculum standards.
“We want to make sure any kid any age can get some knowledge of it,” she said.
In addition, the trailer will feature pull-out exhibits that can be stored while it is moving. When the trailer sets up at a site, the exhibits will educate and entertain those waiting to access the trailer.
“Maybe they will dissect owl pellets, look through a microscope, dress up as a (refuge) ranger,” Hoisington said. “So there’ll be different components outside, as well.”
Along with benefiting the students within the five-county region, the WoW will serve as an educational tool for the general public as the refuge plans to schedule its appearance at local festivals and events.
As of last week, staff were in the early design stages for the trailer. They are collaborating on it with David Williams, who designed and created the mural for the new “Ding” Studio Exhibit and the award-winning Visitor & Education Center restrooms and welcome archway at the refuge.
“In order for the trailer to come out to these places and really immerse them (visitors) in what Ding is,” she said of working again with Williams.
Currently, staff also are researching trucks that will be able to tow the trailer.
“That’s the majority of the last little funds that we need,” Hoisington said, noting that a 350 dually with a gooseneck trailer is being considered. “Without that the trailer is stationary and can’t go anywhere.”
To maximize the trailer’s interior and exterior museum-quality hands-on exhibits, the refuge’s volunteers and interns will staff the WoW, along with a new, part-time contracted position.
“We’re also raising money for a position that can go to the schools and go to the festivals,” she said, adding that the person will serve as an educator and will organize the trailer’s event appearances.
The goal of the DDWS is to have the initiative completed by March.
“We’re really excited to build what, we think, is a really important community tool,” Hoisington said. “So hopefully we do spark this love for nature in students and people.”
Those interested in donating to the project are encouraged to do so.
“For children of all ages, as well as adults, this ‘traveling refuge’ will drive to distant schools, libraries, after-school programs and so many other places to teach and inspire about saving and protecting our land, water and the wildlife who need that habitat to survive,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said.
For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.classy.org/campaign/wildlife-on-wheels-wow/c254340 or contact Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 4 or email@example.com.