provided to The Santiva Chronicle
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island welcomed two new interns this month to bolster staffing, which has been cut drastically through the years due to federal budget shortfalls.
Sarah Riedlin works as the Sue Tray Memorial Visitor Services Intern fulltime with Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland and her team in operating the Visitor & Education Center and programs through the 2023-2024 season. Emily Sommerfeldt fills the position as education intern for that same period through May 2024.
Born in Sitka, Alaska, Riedlin grew up living in seven different states, and came to the refuge from an internship with the Bald Head Island Conservancy in North Carolina. She graduated in May from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington with bachelor degrees in biology and environmental science and a minor in chemistry.
Riedlin’s permanently endowed, fully funded internship is made possible by the generosity of former, longtime Sanibel Island resident Hal Tray in memory of his wife, who loved the outdoors and refuge.
“’Ding is amazing in so many ways,” said Riedlin. “An amazing space to have for the wildlife, amazing to have such a wonderful visitor center and educational presence, and amazing to have a community that is so supportive and involved.”
Riedlin enjoys getting out on the water by kayak or paddleboard and is excited to explore the waters around Sanibel.
Sommerfeldt graduated in May from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Originally from Rutherfordton, N.C., she worked as a trail guide and naturalist at nearby Chimney Rock State Park before heading to the refuge.
“I’m looking forward to developing my skills as an environmental educator and getting the opportunity to learn more about Florida wildlife and ecosystems,” Sommerfeldt said. “This community seems very strong, passionate, and like-minded towards conservation. After speaking to some of the locals here I can tell that Sanibel is a special place that is cherished by the people who live here. Everyone that I have met through working at ‘Ding’ has been so helpful and kind and I’m truly excited to continue my work here.”
Sommerfeldt spends her spare time taking nature walks, hiking, and discovering flora and fauna. Since she arrived to Sanibel, she has enjoyed exploring beach habitat.
The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) provides housing, living stipends, and other benefits for six to eight interns each year. Since Hurricane Ian destroyed onsite intern housing last year, DDWS has procured temporary housing on and off island.
For more information about the refuge’s internship programs, contact Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland at 239-472-1100 ext. 237.
“We welcome Sarah’s and Emily’s energy and enthusiasm,” said Westland. “We thank our friends group for making our internships possible. With our shrinking staff, due to federal budget cuts, this sort of partnership is crucial to keep the refuge running, especially as we rebuild after Hurricane Ian’s destruction last fall.”
DDWS currently stewards two named internships for the 2023-2024 year and is accepting donations for three future named intern funds at $12,500 a year, which is the cost for supporting one intern including housing, stipends, travel, and other expenses. For information about supporting refuge internship programs, contact Ann-Marie Wildman, DDWS associate director, at 239-789-8991.