Sanibel's J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge Wins Global Award

By: Gary McKechnie


I just returned from a visit to the twin islands of Sanibel and Captiva just off the coast of Fort Myers. I’ll have plenty to say about my visit in the weeks ahead but for now I just wanted to point out one thing I witnessed while I was there: Paul Tritaik, Refuge Manager of the wonderful J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, accepting the Phoenix Award presented by the Society of American Travel Writers.

This is big news. The Phoenix is one of the most prestigious awards in the travel industry, since it recognizes conservation and preservation efforts of individuals and organizations. And the members of the SATW -- who are perhaps the most insightful and experienced travelers in the world -- chose the winners.

It seems only right that the Darling NWR received this very important award, and when you consider its history it takes on even more significance. Since the inception of the Phoenix Award in 1969, only six Florida sites have received it, and this marks the third time a destination in Southwest Florida has been recognized. This acknowledgment places the Darling NWR on par with this year's other recipients including South Carolina’s Charleston City Market, the N/a'an Ku Sê Foundation in Namibia and the Kula Eco Park in Fiji.

All Floridians should be proud of this honor -- and then plan to pay a visit to the Refuge.

Here's what they had to say on the SATW website:

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge opened in 1945 as the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge. Today the refuge protects more than 7,600 acres of preserved water and land, and hosts nearly 800,000 visitors annually year. They come to visit the free education center built by the friends group (“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society), drive or bike the 4-mile Wildlife Drive, hike nature trails, board narrated tram and boating tours, paddle the backwaters, fish, and climb the observation tour to photograph some of the 272 species of birds that have been spotted, including the iconic roseate spoonbill. In 2011 it unveiled the first-of-its-kind iNature Trail along Wildlife Drive. Using QR code and smartphone/tablet technology, it gives visitors an interactive refuge tour by linking to custom filmed YouTube videos. A committee member wrote:  “Without this refuge, Sanibel would not be the environmentally sound island that it is.”

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