Starting Monday, Aug. 3, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island will resume charging Wildlife Drive admission fees, which have been waived since March 23 to avoid unsafe interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon putting necessary safety protocols into effect, the daily vehicular fees will return to $5 and entry fees for pedestrians and cyclists over age 15 is again $1.
Although the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center will remain closed until otherwise announced, its “America’s Best Restroom” will reopen to the public daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Aug. 3. The water bottle filling station outside the restrooms will also be accessible. For everyone’s safety, these facilities will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized daily.
The Nature Store inside the visitor center is offering free curbside delivery service for orders placed on ShopDingDarling.com during the physical store’s closure. Call 239-472-1100 ext. 241 or visit the website to learn more.
Effective Oct. 1, 2020, Wildlife Drive admission fees will change as a result of positive feedback from two public comment meetings held at the refuge in April 2019 and approval by the U.S. Department of Interior. A fee change has not been implemented at the refuge since the 1990s.
As reflected in the included infographic, daily vehicular admission fees will increase on Oct. 1 from $5 to $10 and annual passes from $12 to $25. Entry fees for pedestrians and cyclists entering Wildlife Drive or Indigo Trail will remain at $1 each for persons ages 15 and older. Admission to the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center (when it reopens) and Bailey Tract trails is still free. The cost of the Senior Pass, Access Pass, and other federal passes all remain the same and are available for purchase, as are “Ding” Darling annual passes, at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s recreational concession at 900 Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel, 239-472-8900.
Fees collected at the booth on 4-mile Wildlife Drive, one of the most famous birding routes in the nation, go directly to the refuge to enhance visitor-related services. These services may include, but aren’t limited to, increased accessibility to refuge trails, facility maintenance, and other visitor accommodations.
“The fees help maintain structures, roads, and native habitat across our 6,400 acres,” said supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland, who oversees visitor services. “We also have become increasingly reliant on the entrance fees, as our federal staffing budget shrinks, for salaries — especially where public safety and security are concerned.”
For more information about Wildlife Drive fees, call Westland at 239-472-1100 ext. 237.