Refuge ranger delivers surprise guests for chamber lunch
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, promised members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce a surprise at the business luncheon on Feb. 12, but no one expected she would raise two historic figures from the dead.
As Westland was finishing her talk about the refuge’s ongoing 75th anniversary celebration this year and what is new at the refuge, she wondered out loud what refuge founder Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling and refuge system creator President Theodore Roosevelt would say about how far the refuge has come in its three-quarters of a century. That is when two reprisors who play the roles of Darling and Roosevelt burst into the room to regale members with history and humor.
Joe Wiegand, the Roosevelt reprisor, talked about his role in establishing the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island and subsequent ones in the Pine Island Sound that are now a part of the “Ding” Darling complex. The Darling reprisor, Tom Milligan, explained how an editorial cartoonist from Iowa ended up on Sanibel in the 1940s and created the refuge that came to be named for him.
“What I really want to do is to thank you ” Milligan told the crowd as Darling. “You’ve taken awareness of this place into consideration with your businesses. I’m so pleased that Sanibel Island has that same 1941 feel and look and love that I first discovered.”
Westland also thanked the chamber and members for getting the word out to their guests and customers about all the refuge has to offer. She revealed a 75th anniversary activity that will debut this summer and involve local businesses.
“Seventy-five roseate spoonbills are going to flock into our community in June,” she said, explaining that business partners will be invited to hide small spoonbill statues at their places of business as part of an island-wide scavenger hunt. The refuge is now collecting names of businesses that wish to partner.
Chamber members interested in participating in the Roseate Spoonbill Scavenger Hunt can email Toni_Westland@fws.gov with their name and contact phone number for a follow-up in May. Westland, who oversees visitor services and events, began working at the refuge as an environmental education specialist in 2002.
“Toni is always a crowd-pleaser, but this time she really outdid herself,” chamber Member Services Manager Ashley Pignato said.