Delayed a year by Hurricane Ian’s interference, the much-anticipated The Roost outdoor pavilion at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island celebrated its reveal on Oct. 21 with a SanCap Chamber ribbon-cutting as the kickoff to its inaugural Art in the Wild weekend.

“It is so heartening to see the refuge not simply recovering, but actively thriving with this new addition to its visitor services facilities,” said SanCap President and CEO John Lai. “The Roost promises to greatly enhance the islands’ most popular destination for residents and visitors alike.”

The Roost, a 2,590-square-foot, earth-friendly pavilion, will serve as an outdoor classroom for visiting school and other groups. DDWS also foresees creative new uses that reflect the refuge’s arts legacy and experiential mission – including music and artist events, puppet shows, lectures, mindfulness classes, and culture-driven programs.

“Since the COVID outbreak, the refuge looked for alternatives to indoor programming, where participants could not only be spaced apart, but breath the fresh air while participating,” said Ann-Marie Wildman, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), which raised funding for the more than $1 million project. “As a refuge devoted to the great outdoors and the legacy of artist-cartoonist ‘Ding’ Darling himself, we feel this will become an invaluable addition.”

“Ding” Darling celebrated the occasion on Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling’s 147th birthday with reenactor Tim Milligan, cookies, and a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” led by the Tice children’s choir. Throughout the festival weekend, The Roost hosted live music, a nature puppet show, yoga, and visitors simply looking for a place to rest and observe nature.


“Thank goodness for our wonderful friends group, who built the much-needed outdoor pavilion,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni. We’re really excited to expand our programs and be able to do them outdoors. It’s a game-changer for us.”

“We foresee this becoming an important asset to the island community, which has so strongly supported us through the years,” said Wildman. “We want to thank the chamber for helping us to celebrate this historic moment and for its constant enthusiasm in promoting and supporting ‘Ding’ Darling and the islands in ways small and huge.”


The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website,, receives over 1.3 million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].