provided to Santiva Chronicle
While Wildlife Drive at The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has remained open, admission fees have been waived since March 23 to avoid unsafe interaction during the pandemic. The refuge announced it will resume charging admission fees to the four-miles-long Wildlife Drive on Monday, Aug. 3 with necessary safety protocols in place. The daily vehicular fee will return to $5 and the entry fee for pedestrians and cyclists 15 years or older remains at $1.
However, Wildlife Drive admission fees will increase effective Oct. 1, as a result of positive feedback from two public comment meetings held in April 2019 at the refuge and approval by the U.S. Department of Interior. A fee change has not been implemented at the refuge since the 1990s.
The daily vehicular fee will increase from $5 to $10 and annual passes will go from $12 to $25. Pedestrians and cyclists older than 15 years who enter Wildlife Drive or Indigo Trail will continue to pay $1. Admission to the refuge’s Visitor & Education Center, as well as the Bailey Tract on Tarpon Bay Road, will remain free of charge. There will not be a change in price for the Senior Pass, Access Pass and other federal passes.
Fees collected at the Wildlife Drive booth go directly to the refuge to enhance visitor-related services, including but not limited to, increased accessibility to the three refuge trails, facility maintenance and other visitor accommodations.
“The fees help maintain structures, roads and native habitats across our 6,400 acres,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who oversees visitor services. “We also have become increasingly reliant on the entrance fees, as our federal staffing budget shrinks, for salaries – especially where public safety and security are concerned.”
The Visitor & Education Center remains closed until further notice, but its “America’s Best Restrooms” will reopen from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily starting Aug. 3. The water bottle filling station outside the restrooms will be accessible then, too. These facilities will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized daily for everyone’s safety.
The Nature Store, located inside the visitor center, is offering free curbside delivery for orders placed at ShopDingDarling.com during the store’s closure. Call 239-472-1100 ext. 241 or visit the website to learn more.