The 23rd annual "Ding" Darling Days celebrates National Wildlife Week and the birthday of the refuge's namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay N. "Ding" Darling.
One highlight of the week-long "Ding" Days, which is Oct. 14-20, is the chance to meet and greet last year's four-time Federal Duck Stamp winner Joe Hautman and Junior Duck Stamp winner Christine Clayton at 1 p.m. Oct. 20 in the education center.
Orlando-based IBEX Puppetry troupe will make its Southwest Florida debut on Family Fun Day, Oct. 14, with its interactive endangered species and wildlife parade, featuring life-sized puppets made of recycled material, plus kites, flags, drums, costumes and music.
Photo by SHANNEN HAYES
'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge will host its 23rd annual 'Ding' Darling Days Oct. 14-20 in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week and the birthday of the refuge's namesake, Jay N. 'Ding' Darling. A naturalist-narrated 60-minute tour in a Tarpon Bay Explorers tram is free during the first day of the event. The 'Blue Goose' is Karen Lopresti, a 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society intern; 'Teddy Roosevelt' is Jess Shelton, also a DDWS intern; and Ranger Toni Westland invites everyone to 'go outside' during 'Ding' Darling Days.
"This is such a perfect fit for 'Ding' Days," said committee co-chair Ranger Toni Westland. "I saw them perform last year at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and told my committee, 'we have to get them.'"
Heather Henson, daughter of the late Jim Henson, continues his puppeteering work and love of Florida's wildlife with her IBEX puppetry troupe, which will perform twice. In addition to the short, energetic, improv parades every hour starting at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 14, IBEX will return at 10 a.m. Oct. 15 in the education center with a half-hour bird kite making session and ends with an outdoor celebration.
"We're always adding new elements to our presentations," said company manager Frank Ramirez, who visited the refuge to customize the show to its locale. "We'll be creating new creatures that are indigenous to this area especially for the event."
At this year's "Ding" Darling Days, the refuge will host a national premier of an hour-long documentary "America's Darling: The story of Jay N. "Ding" Darling" created by film producer Samuel Koltinsky. It will be shown at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 and from there the film will travel throughout the country. This film's production, which was three years in the making, was mostly sponsored by the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge.
DDWS was formed to help support the refuge after its headquarters was moved from the Sanibel Lighthouse to the current location off Sanibel-Captiva Road in March 1982 and opened the visitor's center that drew more than 11,000 visitors its first month. After being inundated with an inquisitive public, the refuge turned to volunteers for help.
In June 1982, the founding DDWS Board of Directors met with refuge staff to establish the new friends group. It was Bud Ryckman, the first board president and a refuge volunteer, who stepped up to the challenge. With him were William Frey, vice president; Milena Eskew, secretary; Dan Kimpel, treasurer; Millie Ford, volunteer drive coordinator; Reed Toomey, legal counsel; and Reed Palmer, accounting consultant. On Oct. 6, 1982, DDWS was officially established following the approval of its articles of incorporation by the Florida Secretary of State.
"We've had a lot of work to do in the last 30 years," said current DDWS board President John McCabe. "Resources from the federal government for refuges are not expanding and we are doing everything we can to fill that gap. The people who started (DDWS) were wonderful and we are trying to carry on that support of the refuge."
What started as a five-member support group to head a volunteer program has grown into a 1,300-plus member organization that through the years has built its own $3.3 million education center in 1999 and has become a model for refuge friends groups across the nation.
The society has earned several prestigious awards that include The National Volunteer Service Award in 1991 from the National Recreation and Parks Association; the Friends Group of the Year in 1999 from the National Wildlife Refuge Association; and the Southeast Regional Directors Award in 2009 for its help with distributing funds for refuge employees who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"The original board set the friends group up with a set of goals and values that has made the friends society a success," said McCabe. "The board has worked very hard and very well throughout the years. It's been somewhat of a leader from the beginning as one of the first three societies created; all due to the hard work of the people before us and today."
The wildlife society will celebrate its 30-year partnership with the refuge during "Ding" Darling Days, at 11 a.m. Oct. 20 in the education center. The public is invited to have a piece of birthday cake.
"I think the board is very proud of all the work that has been done and we continue to grow and change for the future," added McCabe.
The 2012 "Ding" Days will also include a new speaker series, during which people can learn about ospreys, mangrove cuckoos, sea turtles, endangered refuge species, wildlife smuggling and the capture of the "Sanibel Bear."
Free presentations will take place at least daily at the education center auditorium -- seating is limited and available on a first-come basis. Additionally, naturalists from Tarpon Bay Explorers -- one of the presenters of "Ding" Days -- will do daily deck talks at the refuge's Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.
For a complete listing of lectures and a full "Ding" Days schedule, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com or call 239-472-1100.