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Programs resume at refuge with ‘soft reopening’ of center
January 11, 2019

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Despite the federal government shutdown, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel has been permitted to reopen its Visitor & Education Center with limited services.

Today, the films, lectures, free tours and programs, and special exhibitions offered through the admission-free center resumed. According to officials, a scaled-back government staff will receive pay from refuge entrance fee dollars, instead of appropriations. The reopening was approved on Jan. 10.

"We are pleased to be able to bring back a few employees and several volunteers to honor our commitments to our partners and the public by re-opening our Visitor and Education Center and conducting scheduled and announced guest lectures, film showings, educational programs, interpretative tours, and special events," Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik said.

"Our called-back employees and volunteers are excited to work again and we hope the rest of our staff and volunteers can return to the work they love as soon as possible," he added.

Some of the free daily tours and programs offered during the winter season, which will run through April 28, include Nature Photography, Beach Walk, Endangered Species and Indigo Trail Walk.

The arrangement will last for 30 days, at which time, if the federal government remains shut down, further guidance will be issued, officials reported. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Operated by the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, the Refuge Nature Store located inside the center also reopened to resume its support of refuge programs and projects.

"We are grateful to our friend's group, 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society, for keeping our award-winning restrooms open and clean and our concessionaire, Tarpon Bay Explorers, for keeping our Tarpon Bay Recreation Area and Wildlife Drive open and accessible for visitors to enjoy our popular wildlife," Tritaik said. "We are also grateful to our essential federal wildlife officers working without pay to safeguard the life, health, and safety of our visitors and to protect our wildlife and property from harm."

All other refuge facilities have remained operational during the shutdown and will continue as such, including Wildlife Drive and its trails, the Bailey Tract and all Tarpon Bay Explorers activities.

Wildlife Drive is open Saturday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

TBE is the official concession to the refuge and provides low-impact, recreational and educational activities for visitors, like tram, kayak, cruise and standup paddleboard tours and fishing charters, as well as kayak, standup paddleboard, pontoon and bike rentals. A portion of its proceeds goes back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to benefit national refuges nationwide.

For more about the refuge and updates on the shutdown, visit dingdarlingsociety.org.

For more on TBE, visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com or call 239-472-8900.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive.

Tarpon Bay Explorers is at 900 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel.

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