provided to The Santiva Chronicle
From the survival of a raccoon family born shortly before Hurricane Ian to the forthcoming sequel to the refuge Learning Lavatories at the chamber visitor center, representatives from “Ding” Darling got the crowd excited about goings-on at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge during the Nov. 15 monthly business luncheon at The Community House on Sanibel Island.
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland introduced the “perfect trifecta” of speakers including Ann-Marie Wildman, executive director for the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS); and Adam Sauerland, manager of Tarpon Bay Explorers (TBE), the official refuge recreation concession.
Sauerland explained that TBE is currently operating paddlecraft rentals and tours and Wildlife Drive tram tours on a limited schedule with limited staff, but he plans to bring back everything to pre-hurricane status, hopefully by summer 2024.
Westland reported wildlife appears to be bouncing back and visitation to the refuge has increased in the past week. “When you have people coming to visit you for the holidays and in season and you need to get them out of your house, send them to ‘Ding’ Darling,” she urged. “Our goal this year is getting people back to the island, so we’re planning lots of free events and activities.”
Upcoming events will include a Holiday Shopping afterhours on Nov. 29 and Holiday Ice Cream Social on Dec. 13 – both part of the islands’ “Luminary Season” local businesses and nonprofits have organized in lieu of the regular Holiday Luminary this year. Wellness in Nature at “Ding” takes place in January, and the refuge lecture series and free ranger-led programs also start that month, Wildman explained.
She and Westland also announced two new big refuge projects. The Roving Ranger, “a visitor center on wheels,” said Westland, hopefully will be in action by mid-February as a food truck-sized mobile exhibit to visit events around the community.
“We have the privilege of working with the chamber to develop their ‘Learning Lavatories,’” said Wildman. Modeled after the award-winning restrooms at the refuge Visitor & Education Center, the Learning Lavatories at the chamber visitor center will introduce visitors to island wildlife and habitat.
“We have a captive audience for a few minutes to make use of,” she said. “It’s a good way to give visitors an introduction. We’ll be rolling it out in the spring.”
“We are extremely excited about this partnership with ‘Ding’ Darling and the energy of the refuge team in keeping Sanibel Island on visitors’ radar,” said John Lai, SanCap Chamber president and CEO. “The vitality of the refuge directly drives the vitality of island commerce, so the forward-thinking of the team is much appreciated.”
DDWS and SCORE sponsored the November luncheon, and Sweet Melissa Café catered it. There will be no monthly business luncheon in December, January events to be announced.