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Refuge to celebrate fee-free day with unveiling and more

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Aug 3, 2021

REFUGE/DDWS Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland peers through the new scope that the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will unveil on Aug. 4.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will mark the newly declared Great American Outdoors Day tomorrow with a special unveiling, free admission to its Wildlife Drive and more.

With the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act last year, Aug. 4 is now one of six fee-free entrance days at national parks and public lands every year as designated by the government.

“It’s the first time it’s really being celebrated,” Chelle Koster Walton, one of the organizers for the refuge’s event, said. “It’s a fee-free day for all national wildlife refuges, parks and other public lands.”

The highlight of the day’s celebration will be the unveiling of a spotting scope at 10 a.m. at the observation tower on Wildlife Drive that is made specifically for colorblind visitors to the refuge.

“We were looking for an occasion to make some news about this new scope,” she said, noting that Great American Outdoors Day was a perfect fit. “We thought that would be a perfect time to do that.”

REFUGE/DDWS A J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge scene as a colorblind person sees it as opposed to a normal-vision viewer.

Among the 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System, Sanibel will be the first to expand its accessibility initiatives to include the scope. Engineered by SeeCoast Manufacturing with EnChroma’s lens technology for color blindness, the scope will be available at the observation tower for future use.

EnChroma eyeglasses will also be available to borrow for visitors with color vision deficiency.

Colorblind individuals have been invited to the unveiling to try both and share their reactions.

“Accessibility, of course, has been foremost on the priority list for the refuge,” Walton said, explaining that Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland learned about the scope and eyeglasses and led the project to get them. “It is a big deal being the first national wildlife refuge — the first place in Florida.”

It is the first such public viewing scope in the state and on any federal lands, refuge officials previously reported. Fewer than 20 other such scopes are currently available to the public throughout the nation.

REFUGE/DDWS Admission is free on Aug. 4 on Wildlife Drive where Artist-in-Residence Rachel Pierce will do a pop-up, plein air painting demonstration.

In addition to the unveiling of the scope, visitors will enjoy free admission to Wildlife Drive from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for the day. The cost is usually $10 per vehicle and $1 for bicyclists and hikers.

“So the fees are waived,” she said.

Other free onsite activities scheduled for the day include the refuge’s Wildlife on Wheels mobile classroom being available for tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside of the Visitor & Education Center. Also, Artist-in-Residence Rachel Pierce will do a pop-up, plein air painting demonstration on Wildlife Drive from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. that illustrates the difference between colorblind and normal vision.

“She’s going to kind of give her vision of the scene,” Walton said.

“She’ll build on that contrast and create something fabulous,” she added.

REFUGE/DDWS The refuge's Wildlife on Wheels mobile classroom will be available for to tour on Aug. 4.

Visitors will have the opportunity to watch Pierce paint and meet the artist, whose year-long “residency” will culminate in an exhibit of her refuge-inspired and other works starting on Oct. 1.

Walton reiterated that the activities are free and open to the public.

“The unveiling is open to all and everybody is welcome,” she said.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to come out.

“It’s Great American Outdoors Day,” Walton said. “Take advantage of that and enjoy the refuge.”

For more information, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/events or call 239-472-1100 ext. 237.