Exciting news for nature lovers – the 4-mile Wildlife Drive at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel is finally reopening to the public on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. This drive is a favorite of visitors to the island and locals as it provides unique glimpses of various wildlife that inhabit the Refuge including roseate spoonbills and alligators, along with stunning vistas.
The drive has been closed since late May so that needed improvements could be made. Updates include the replacement of a water control structure and installation of a brand new one; these will help with habitat restoration as well as aid in the management of the wildlife.
If you ever tried to ride a bike down Wildlife Drive you’ll be thrilled to hear that the pavement has been replaced. Wildlife Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik stated, “The old pervious pavement, installed in 2002, had deteriorated to a point where it was no longer pervious and had become so rough that our cycling visitors could no longer comfortably ride the drive.” Bicyclists can attest to that. The road had definitely been eaten up and felt like it was crumbling as you rode over it, making for a very rough, shaky ride. Now, it’s all smooth pedaling. Tritaik added, “The new asphalt surface will extend the life of Wildlife Drive for at least 20 years.”
More improvements to the Refuge include the addition of more parking spaces at the Calusa Shell Mound Trail and newly paved parking areas at the popular spots where cars pull off the road to observe wildlife and take photos.
The gate will open starting at 9 a.m. on October 1st and admission will be free all day for bikers, drivers and hikers until closing time at 6:30 p.m. Prefer their fantastic tram tours? They’ll be up and running but you’ll need to pay the regular fare.
When you go, be sure to check out the new Wildlife Education Boardwalk. This exciting addition was completed in August and you can find it right off the Indigo Trail.
One thing to note is that Wildlife Drive is always closed on Fridays. This gives the wildlife a “disturbance-free day” and lets the staff take care of any maintenance issues.
Want to support the Ding Darling Wildife Society? The DDWS would greatly appreciate a tax-deductible gift and it’s easy to do, just visit them online at www.dingdarlingsociety.org. You can also just give Birgie Vertesch a call at 239-292-0566.