The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge reopened its doors this morning after a 16-day federal government shutdown.
It had closed the same day that park officials planned a ceremony for the improved Wildlife Drive. Most of the refuge staff and Tarpon Bay Explorers were forced to stay home during the closure, and organizations with offices in the refuge, such as the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, had to find other places to work.
The government shutdown ended five days before the opening of "Ding" Darling Days, the refuge's largest festival. Organizers decided to cancel Family Fun Day on Sunday, Oct. 20, but were waiting until Monday, Oct. 21 to cancel the rest of the festival if the shutdown didn't end.
Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik said Family Fun Day is still cancelled but all of the other activities at "Ding" Darling Days, from Monday to Saturday, are scheduled.
He said the fee for Wildlife Drive was also waived today in honor of the canceled ceremony. Normally it costs $1 for individuals and $5 for vehicles, and those prices will be reinstated starting Friday, Oct. 18.
"We waived the fees because we had planned to do that for the grand opening of Wildlife Drive, so this was essentially our grand opening, without the ceremony," said Tritaik. "I decided to go ahead and honor that again, especially in light of the shutdown on top of the drive being closed."
Tritaik said the ceremony will not be rescheduled.
Birgie Vertesch, executive director of the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, which organizes "Ding" Darling Days, said the rest of the week will be the same as if the government shutdown never happened.
"It's a fun-filled week that people of all ages will enjoy," she said.
For information on the event, visit dingdarlingdays.com