Technology in the Outdoors Day, mascot meet-and-greets, a film festival, Celebrate Calusa Day and author lectures will add excitement to this year's "Ding" Darling Days at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
The 22nd annual event kicks off Sunday, Oct. 16 with Family Fun Day, where three refuge characters - the Blue Goose, Bagzilla and Teddy Roosevelt - will get the party started and greet families for photo opportunities beginning at 11 a.m. Anticipate a surprise appearance from a fourth well-loved character.
Sunday's highlights include free narrated Tarpon Bay Explorers tram tours of the refuge; live snake, bat and bald eagle presentations; and face painting, nature crafts, a butterfly house and touch tank demonstrations. The refuge and "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge have planned this day of family fun jam-packed with activities for all ages at no charge.
CAROL ORR HARTMAN
Everyone is invited to meet J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s three new characters — Blue Goose, Bagzilla and Teddy Roosevelt — during the 22nd annual “Ding” Darling Days Oct. 16-22 in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week.
"We estimate the value of this free event to be around $72 per child," noted "Ding" Days committee co-chair Ranger Toni Westland. "But the value of family and nature bonding is priceless."
Inspired by "Ding" Darling Refuge's new iNature Trail along Wildlife Drive, the weeklong "Ding" Darling Days will debut Technology in the Outdoors on Monday, Oct. 17 - a day off for public school children.
Special tours and demonstrations will introduce visitors to the 10-station iNature Trail, where smartphones and tablets are used to scan the QR codes and connect with interactive YouTube videos for a free ranger-narrated tour.
Other demonstrations combining gadgets with nature include GPS-based Earth caching at the refuge and the education center's eBird Trail Tracker computer, where guests can identify birds and their songs and enter their refuge sightings. Throughout the day, visitors can watch short films featuring seven of the 550-plus refuges worldwide. Films begin every hour on the hour starting at 9 a.m. in the auditorium of the Eduction Center.
The new Celebrate Calusa Day on Wednesday, Oct. 19 will feature a Calusa Quest presentation by a team from "Ding" Darling, the Mound House on Fort Myers Beach and the Randell Research Center on Pine Island. A tour of the refuge's newly renovated Calusa Shell Mound Trail, guided by Calusa experts Ann and Bill Wollschlager, will follow the presentation.
'Ding" Days will also host two author lectures, new this year. Island historian Charles LeBuff will host a lecture and sign copies of his latest book "Images of America: J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge," as part of Refuge Discovery Day. This free lecture will be from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 in auditorium of the Education Center.
In addition, refuge staff will introduce a part of the refuge most people don't know about - its beach side at Perry Tract. At 9 a.m., refuge ranger will lead a narrated beach walk from Gulfside Park, which is adjacent to the refuge tract. The beach walk is free, but there is a $2 per hour city parking fee at Gulfside Park.
Throughout Discovery Day, visitors can join a narrated Refuge Birding Tour Caravan along Wildlife Drive for $5 per vehicle, plus receive discounted kayaking tours and sea life cruises from Tarpon Bay recreation area.
To finish off the seven days of "Ding," a Duck Stamp Artists presentation once again headlines Saturday's Conservation Art Day, which also includes a photography tram tour and nature art activities with free nature journals and art supplies.
"Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge sponsors "Ding" Darling Days with support from Tarpon Bay Explorers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other private and business partners.
"We use no government funding because of our amazing partnerships," said Westland. "We couldn't do it without the Friends group and the community's support."
For a full "Ding" Darling Days schedule, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com or call 472-1100.