Friday, October 16, 2009

Darling Wildlife Refuge celebrates its 20th Annual "Ding" Darling Days.

Forget about the couch and TV.

Think fresh air and fun outside.

Over the next week, raccoons, birds, trees and all things connected to nature will have top billing on the islands as the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge celebrates its 20th Annual "Ding" Darling Days.

In an effort to encourage families to have fun together outdoors as well as highlight the importance of wildlife refuges the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge is sponsoring its 20th annual "Ding" Darling Days.

"Ding" Darling Days birding and eco-festival celebrates the birthday of J.N. "Ding" Darling - the national Wildlife Refuge's namesake and father of the federal duck stamp program, the week of Oct. 18-24.

Toni Westland, a supervisor park ranger for "Ding" said the event draws thousands of people each year.

"Our biggest thing is to get families out together," Westland said.

This year's 20th annual event kicks off at the refuge on Sunday, Oct. 18, with Family Fun Day, featuring free activities such as narrated refuge tram tours, live wildlife presentations, hot dogs, kids nature crafts, a touch tank and butterfly house, and more.

"You can't beat that, especially in our economic times," Westland said referring to the free events and food.

The events are planned to engage and educate the entire family about nature and refuges. National refuges are recognized during October.

During Family Fun Day children will get a chance to pose as different animals in a yoga program, check out different snakes and reptiles presented by the Calusa Herpetological Society.

"We need to educate people about the purposes of reptiles," Westland said.

Education will be a key component of the entire "Ding" Days week.

Other animals folks will get a chance to see are gopher tortoises, black vultures and alligators.

Black vultures?

"There nature's cleaning crew," Westland said. "They serve a really good purpose."

Among the events children will get a to doodle their own wildlife sketches and have a chance to get a caricature.

Aside from nature, "Ding" is working to promote art and creativity among the youth.

Westland points out that the sketching and crafts programs during "ding" Days is a great perk for kids who do not have little or no art programs in their schools.

"I think art is really forgotten," Westland said. "We cannot lose that creative outlet for our children."

Jean Rankin, a longtime volunteer at "Ding" encourages everyone to come out and have a good time this week.

"It's a great learning experience for the whole family," Rankin said.

Rankin who will be working at the information booth said she looks forward to watching children's faces light up during the different interactive events.

"I like seeing the families and groups come out together," she said.
The Duck Stamp Artist presentation this year moves to Saturday's Conservation Through Art Day, which also includes kids nature art and writing activities with free nature journals. On Saturday, Oct. 24 children will also have an opportunity to learn how to create a nature nook with children's author Marianne Berkes.

Throughout the week, festival-goers can go to free biking and birding tours, take advantage of discounted kayaking and nature boat excursions, and sit in on free nature deck talks at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge's official recreation concession.

But whether you decide to take advantage of the free and discounted tours and nature adventures or participate in the art, animal and many other demonstrations and events - just do it together is the word from "Ding".

"Let's go outside," Westland said.

For a full "Ding" Darling Days schedule, visit, or call 239-472-1100, ext. 226.

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