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Donors fund truck purchase for Sanibel refuge’s WoW

By Staff | Feb 3, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED The WoW team — artist David Williams, Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland and DDWS Development Officer Sierra Hoisington — recently tried out the WoW mobile classroom shell for size.

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge recently received a donation from the Bluedorn Family, of Sanibel and Dallas, Texas, to purchase a heavy-duty truck to tow the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Wildlife on Wheels (WoW) mobile classroom.

“That was the last piece of the puzzle to put together the ‘traveling refuge’ unit to extend the refuge’s educational reach to at-risk communities and people in the five-county area who are unable to visit ‘Ding’ Darling,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “We are so thrilled that Barbara Bluedorn found the project captivating because of the importance of its outreach mission to her family.”

The WoW will travel to distant schools, libraries, after-school programs, events and other venues to teach and inspire people of all ages to save and protect land, water and the wildlife that need that habitat to survive.

The educational project for the Sanibel refuge began with an anonymous $100,000 family grant last spring. Later, another donor contributed a $50,000 challenge grant that brought in another $100,000 toward the WoW’s completion. Donations have arrived from refuge friends and education supporters across the country.

“All of the donors to this long dreamed-of project believe in education as the key component to making a difference in protecting what is left in our world for the wildlife and the people who depend on it,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who leads the project with DDWS Development Officer Sierra Hoisington, said. “We are always looking for new and creative ways to engage people of all ages in conservation. We are so excited about the possibilities of teaching and inspiring in hard-to-reach communities through WoW.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Artist rendering of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge's Wildlife on Wheels.

Currently in its fabrication stage, the WoW will be unveiled in late March as part of the refuge’s 75th anniversary celebration. The DDWS hopes to hire a coordinator-educator who, along with volunteers and interns, will staff the museum-quality hands-on exhibits inside and outside of the WoW to maximize their inspirational learning potential.

Learning stations will interpret mangrove ecosystems, water quality, water conservation, pollution and plastic, animal scats and tracks, Florida’s native animals, wildlife sounds and other topics that meet the refuge’s mission. Refuge staff, Lee County teachers and a team of volunteers will draw on knowledge gained in the classroom to design the interpretative exhibits and programs so they complement Florida educational requirements.

“The refuge will continue bringing schools here by bus – nearly 5,000 students annually,” Westland said. “But our WoW mobile classroom will allow refuge staff to reach thousands of more kids and their families who are otherwise unable to experience the outdoors at the refuge.”

To make a tax-deductible donation toward the ongoing needs of the WoW project, contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 4 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.