The community gathered at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge's Indigo Trail on Monday to ceremoniously cut the ribbon of a boardwalk connecting the refuge to The Sanibel School.
Plans for the boardwalk had been brewing since 1999, when Principal Barbara Von Harten met with former "Ding" Darling Refuge Manager Lou Hinds. The refuge wanted to lease some land from the school district to expand their parking area and, in return, they promised to construct the boardwalk, which later evolved to include the pavilion.
"This has been a long time coming," said "Ding" Darling Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik. "It was through an agreement with the State Board of Education and the school board that we have most of the wetlands that are part of the refuge today."
The Sanibel community attended a ribbon cutting for the Wildlife Education Boardwalk at the J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge last week. From left to right, Amy Nowacki, architect and project manager; Marilyn Kloosterman; Principal Barbara Von Harten; 'Ding' Darling Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik; Sanibel Vice Mayor Doug Congress; and Carol Strange-Martin, from the George & Miriam Martin Foundation. Mckenzie Cassidy.
Staff from The Sanibel School and an entire science class also attended the ribbon cutting.
"This is amazing. This far exceeds my wildest dreams," said Von Harten. "The ecosystems are an important part of our curriculum and this is a natural way we can bring the kids and have them really involved."
Two 12-year-old students from The Sanibel School were covering the event for their school newspaper. Seventh graders Lander Peck and Grant Ireland were taking pictures and said they had visited the trail with their science classes in previous years, but last week was the first time they saw the finished boardwalk and pavilion.
"I think it's really cool and it'll be fun to come here with my teachers," said Peck.
Since third grade the two have studied different aspects of the local ecosystem on Indigo Trail. Besides science teachers bringing students out for hands-on learning, even a photography class ventures along the trails taking nature shots.
"We walk the trails, find tracks, and they show us scat," said Ireland.
Sanibel Vice Mayor Doug Congress addressed the community before the ribbon cutting, pointing out the successful cooperation between the city, county, state, federal government, and private citizens.
"It's no secret that hundreds of thousands of people visit the island every year, as well as Ding Darling. This is just another outstanding educational tool to educate visitors and residents alike on conservancy and wildlife," said Congress.
Wingin' It Works is partnering with the refuge on Phase 2, which is the installation of interpretive scat and track panels in November. The entire project was designed by local architect Amy Nowacki and built by Artistic Structures, On Site Services, Grounds by Greenways, and Grady Minor.
Funds for the boardwalk were raised through the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society. They raised $170,000 from the Jim Sprankle Duck Decoy Exhibit, the Win Kloosterman Memorials, the George & Miriam Martin Foundation, and individual donations through the society, the late Syril Rubin and the Sanibel Captiva Trust Company.
Wildlife Drive and the Indigo Trail will remain closed until Oct. 1.
For more information, visit dingdarlingsociety.org.