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January 12, 2023

Wildlife Drive Repair Work Begins

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service crews from up north – inactivated by the cold - began working last week on shoring up wash-outs and safety hazards caused by Hurricane Ian on September 28 along Wildlife Drive, the trails, and Tarpon Bay Explorers. Refuge complex leader Kevin Godsea hopes to see the Drive open sometime in February. A shout-out to our workers from Crab Orchard NWR in Illinois for helping “Ding” with its comeback. 

Reservations LIVE! for Annual Fundraiser


Yesterday, January 11, reservations for DDWS’ annual fundraiser Go Bully for “Ding” – An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt opened.

The event takes place Monday, March 6, at Broadway Palm in Fort Myers. In consideration of the hardships many island residents and business owners have suffered since the hurricane in September, DDWS has lowered the price of tickets to $75 per person this year. Thanks to all our fabulous sponsors (see below). Learn more about supporting the event as a business or individual.

Current sponsors:

Call of the Wild Sponsors: Gretchen Banks, Jim & Liz Birmingham, The Bluedorn Family, Jim & Patty Sprankle

Champion Sponsors: Wayne & Linda Boyd, Bill & Laurie Harkey, Jo Smith, In Memory of Boomer Duvin

Guardian Sponsors: Milestone Auctions, Willam & Barbara Millar, Bill & Heather O'Keefe, Doug & Sherry Gentry

Protector Sponsors: Mike & Terry Baldwin, Tiffani Kaliko & John Silvia

Defender Sponsors: A Friend of the Refuge, HighTower Advisors Fort Myers, Chip & Nancy Roach, Hank & Linda Spire, The Gresham Family, Bob & Kathy Wiesemann, Sanibel Captiva Islander

'Ding' Partners for Solar Power

DDWS is partnering with Solar United Neighbors (SUN), a non-profit co-op whose purpose is to provide residents and businesses in Lee and Collier County with collective buying power to affordably convert to solar energy.  


Based on the prior success of its SanCap Solar Connect campaign in 2015, DDWS has firm faith in community solarization efforts. It joins SCCF, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, Bailey’s General Store, and other island factions in its support.  


“SanCap Connect was the first community-wide solarize program in Florida,” said DDWS Executive Director. “Thanks to its success, we were able to convert the Visitor & Education Center and maintenance garage to solar. Hurricane Ian, however, blew away most of the solar panels, and now we also are building the new The Roost outdoor learning pavilion in an earth-friendly way. It makes sense for us to join in the SUN efforts, and we urge all local business owners and homeowners to do the same.”

Photo caption: Original solar panels on the Visitor & Education Center

Hurricane Update

We will consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Please access those sites doing a better job with on-the-ground updates, such as the City of Sanibel. Please call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566.  

For residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Ian, here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few new links: 

  • People have reported that the free individual mental health counseling being offered through Better Help is working very well. To access these free services, Floridians can visit and use code: HurricaneIan. 
  • Updated list of reopened businesses on Sanibel and Captiva.
  • Fort Myers News-Press: "Where's the mail? Where's the aid? Sanibel's recovery marathon grinds on" article.
  • Lee Physician Group announced its Sanibel Primary Care/Walk-In Center has reopened its doors to patients, located at 2495 Palm Ridge Rd. It will be open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
  • "Sanibel Reopens" video.
  • USA Today: "Hurricane Ian Destruction in Florida" article.
  • NPR: "Extreme weather, fueled by climate change, cost the U.S. $165 billion in 2022" article.

Needed: Rescue Boat


The Refuge and Tarpon Bay Explorers need an emergency rescue vessel to replace one destroyed by Hurricane Ian. Specs: 14-16-foot skiff-like boat with minimal draft, 25-60hp engine with fewer than 1,000 hours. New or Used. Please contact Birgie Miller with the "Ding" Darling Widlife Society at 239.292.0566 or via email, using "boat" in the subject line.

Nature Store at Rachel Pierce Gallery

A big thanks to last year's "Ding" Artist in Residence Rachel Pierce for the opportunity for a Nature Store Pop-up at her storefront marketplace at 1571 Periwinkle Way in upcoming weeks. Our first pop-up happened Saturday, January 7. More are scheduled for Saturday, January 14; Monday, January 16; Wednesday, January 18; and Friday, January 20. Please stop by to support the Refuge and local businesses on Sanibel Island.

Mindful Kids

As part of its 2023 Nature Wellness programming, Refuge staff, with support from DDWS, is taking its mindfulness walks and other wellness programs to local schools and other youth organizations. At its Pocket Refuge schools, it is establishing mindfulness moments. The education team is supporting exercise and good nutrition at Tice community schools. In this picture, Ranger Jess Barry leads a group of kindergartners from Sanibel Rec’s holiday programs on a Nature Journaling journey.

WoW Update: Traveling Again


This week restarted the academic year for WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) in Lee County Title-1 schools. On Monday, January 9, the mobile outreach classroom traveled to G. Weaver Hipps Elementary in Lehigh Acres, where it will teach classes through January 20. Other upcoming scheduled visits:


January 23-February 2: Orange River Elementary in Fort Myers


February 6-16: Harns Marsh Elementary in Lehigh Acres


February 21-March 16: Oak Hammock Middle School in Fort Myers (Tice)


March 20-24: Spring Break


WoW currently operates with a reduced team because of the hurricane’s impact on staffing. Now, more than ever, Refuge community outreach needs your help. Donate today to support the upkeep and programming for WoW efforts. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities to experience and appreciate the wonder of nature.

Spotlight: Friends Rebuilding


As a regular feature, “Ding” on the Wing spotlights a business on the islands that has strongly supported the Refuge in the past and now needs us all to rally behind it as it navigates the long road to recovery.


Suncatchers’ Dream gift shop on Sanibel Island has been generous with its support of the Refuge, donating auction items and sponsoring events. Owner Daniel Thompson is a well-loved island personality, and his one-of-a-kind merchandise has made a popular shop-stop for residents and visitors since 2005.


Hurricane Ian dealt Daniel a brutal blow, destroying the store’s interior and most of its stock. “I will be starting from scratch like I did when I opened in 2005,” Daniel said. “And bringing back all my fabulous handmade art that our customers love.”


Stripped down to studs, the store awaits permitting to get started on the build-back. Daniel is hoping for late spring or early summer to be up and running.  


“It breaks my heart not to be open,” he says. “The moment I can, I will be there standing in the store to give you a hug and get things rolling again…. As things move to the next stage, you can bet we will be rolling up our sleeves to help our neighbors get set up and get back in gear. My heart is still on this special, special island. I can't imagine my life anywhere but there. I will be back. You can count on it.”

Refuge Programming & Events

The Visitor & Education Center and Wildlife Drive remain closed due to hurricane damage until further notice. Consequently, many programs and events have been canceled. Read DOTW for news of activities that are still being planned.


  • “Ding” Darling Nature Wellness is partnering with Sanibel Rec Center for two weekly programs on Wednesdays and Saturdays while Refuge facilities undergo recovery efforts.
  • The Nature Store will pop up at the Rachel Pierce Gallery marketplace on Saturday, January 14; Monday, January 16; Wednesday, January 18; and Friday, January 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Watch here and social media for other dates.
  • Refuge Cleanup with a Ranger takes place every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Meet at the Visitor & Education Center parking lot for a safety brief before traveling to the cleanup site of the week. Participation is limited and registraton is required on Eventbrite.

Photo caption: Volunteer mindfulness guru Cristina Shaul led the first Sanibel Rec Mindfulness Walk last week. Participants use their senses to tune into what Nature has to tell them.

Show Us Your #DingStrong Merch

Thank you to everyone who has purchased their #DingStrong merch! For a chance to be highlighted in "Ding" on the Wing, send in a photo of yourself wearing your #DingStrong merch to April Boehnen

Paul and Jan in Hannibal, Missouri

Wes, Brandon, and Sherry Morgan in South Carolina

Meet Artist Vince Thomala

Refuge volunteer and accomplished wildlife artist Vince Thomala was scheduled to exhibit in the Visitor & Education Auditorium this January and February. Thanks to Hurricane Ian, that exhibition will be rescheduled once the Center has reopened with damages repaired. In the meantime, please watch this video about Vince’s exquisite work portraying wildlife at the Refuge and beyond.


Work Hard, Play Harder

As part of our Nature Wellness Program for 2023, watch here for tips and advice on how to center your mind and improve your wellbeing both outdoors and indoors.


Many of us work hard, but do we know how to play hard?


Play is the natural embodiment of imagination, inquisition, and creativity - expanding our minds and bringing joy to the present. Childhood is often filled with play, but as we get older and our to-do lists grow, play is replaced by work. If we’re lucky, our work can feel like play, but rarely do we drop into an activity for the sole enjoyment of it.


This week’s tip: Find time to engage in play. Whether it’s trying a new craft, cooking a delicious meal, listening to your favorite podcast, taking a long stroll, riding your bike, or spending time with a friend -- do it for the sole purpose of enjoyment. By intentionally carving out time to do what we enjoy rather than just what we need to, life feels lighter, more in control, and balanced.

These are just snapshots of some of the things taking place at your Wildlife Refuge. Please check our website to learn more!


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by April Boehnen

Darling Dose of "Ding"

#DingStrong Shirts

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