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‘Ding’ Darling Day to mark 75th year for refuge

By TIFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Nov 24, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exhibit to learn more about its fire team and field work.

In light of the pandemic, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has scaled back activities for this year’s “Ding” Darling Day to offer a relaxed engaging day outdoors interacting with nature.

Set for Dec. 1, the 32nd annual event will feature free admission to Wildlife Drive, along with a scavenger hunt, bike tour, environmental exhibitors, plein-air artists and more — all for free.

“It’s actually the 75th anniversary of our refuge — that day,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said, explaining that the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge was created on Dec. 1, 1945.

In 1967, it was renamed in honor of pioneer conservationist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling.

While “Ding” Darling Day would normally consist of a lineup of hands-on interactive activities and programs for all ages, organizers had to think outside of the box due to the ongoing health crisis.

PHOTO PROVIDED CROW will have its Animal Ambassadors in the Visitor & Education Center parking lot.

“We had to get a little more creative with everything being held outdoors,” Westland, who serves as chair of the event committee, said. “And we did have to scale back in order to keep people safe.”

“We socially distanced the whole event,” she added.

The day will kick off with Wildlife Drive opening from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for free.

“There will be plein-air artists set up along the way,” she said of the car and bike-friendly route that winds itself through the refuge. “And also some educational pop-up tents from various organizations.”

They include the Big Cypress National Preserve, Coastal Watch, Sanibel Sea School and more.

PHOTO PROVIDED Ding-O Bingo Scavenger Hunt card

At 9 a.m., the refuge’s information table will open up at the bottom of the ramp to the Visitor & Education Center, which is currently closed to the public. Attendees can pick up their Ding-O Bingo Scavenger Hunt card — or print it out in advance from online — and start exploring the refuge.

“So they can actually play Bingo. There’s all sorts of different questions that get them around,” Westland said, citing getting an answer from an exhibitor, finding a ranger, locating birds and such.

“We’ll show them where they go and where everything is,” she added.

They can turn in their card for a commemorative 75th anniversary recycled bag and poster.

At 9:30 a.m., the first 10 people to meet with their bicycle at the flagpole in the parking lot will have the chance to take part in a four-mile, “Go the Distance” distanced bike tour along Wildlife Drive.

PHOTO PROVIDED CROW will have its Animal Ambassadors in the Visitor & Education Center parking lot.

“It will be a ranger-led tour,” Westland said, adding that they should bring helmets.

Acting Refuge Manager Kevin Godsea and dignitaries will participate in a 75th Anniversary Presentation at 1 p.m. in the parking lot. It will be the official ceremony for the refuge.

“It’ll just be a nice little ceremony,” she said.

At the event, they will put together and seal a time capsule to mark the occasion. The contents will include items collected from staff, volunteers and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, such as a copy of the city’s proclamation for the anniversary and a protective face covering.

Westland noted that it be put on display behind plexiglass in the center — not buried.

“So that it is opened in the next 25 years,” she said.

Also set up in the parking lot will be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a fire demonstration, Lee County School District, Lee County Mosquito Control and Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.

“We’ve got some Animal Ambassadors,” Westland said of CROW.

In addition, the refuge will present its 2021 “Ding” Artist in Residence Rachel Pierce, as well as announce the upcoming programs and activities that she will be involved with. The DDWS will display the winning photos from its “Ding” Darling Day Amateur Nature Photography Contest this year.

“They’re going to announce all of their winners,” she said.

The refuge’s mobile Nature Store will set up.

“You’ll be able to buy merchandise on site,” Westland said.

Similar to Wildlife Drive and the parking lot, the Indigo Trail will feature some environmental exhibitors and plein-air artists. Artist Jaye Boswell, the creator of the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program, will be present. The island school’s students will take tours.

“The Federal Duck Stamp will be on display also,” she said.

The public is welcome to stop by.

“We didn’t want the 75th anniversary to be lost due to COVID. We’ve had an amazing legacy of 75 years at the refuge,” Westland said. “We’re excited to celebrate it, in whatever capacity we can.”

“We hope people get the opportunity to come out,” she added.

To print the Ding-O Bingo Scavenger Hunt card in advance, visit dingdarlingdays.com.

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

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