June 1st will mark the first day of Tarpon Bay Explorers’ new contract as the one and only concessionaire to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The Explorers team is thrilled to continue their partnership with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The contract is for ten years with a five year optional renewal. “We plan to be here as long as we can,” elated Wendy Schnapp, managing partner of Tarpon Bay Explorers. “After what our team has endured over the past year and a half with Hurricane Ian’s destruction and resulting recovery, we are excited for the opportunity to rebuild our operation bigger and better than ever,” explained Schnapp.

Tarpon Bay Explorers was first awarded the contract to become “Ding” Darling’s concession in December of 2002. Tarpon Bay Explorers’ operation began to grow and continue to offer more and more options to the Refuge’s visitors. At first it was limited to tram tours of the Wildlife Drive plus canoes, kayaks and electric pontoons and operated out of the classic single story building that was part of the original Tarpon Bay marina before Tarpon Bay’s incorporation into the Refuge. The Explorers also added the Sea Life and Nature Cruise and built the Aquarium and Touch Tank Exhibit in their inaugural years. After Hurricane Charley in 2004, the old building sustained enough damage that warranted its demolition. In 2008, a new building was constructed and is where the Explorers’ team currently operates from. “We have been honored to be included in a slice of Tarpon Bay’s history over the past 21+ years and are just as honored and excited to continue for at least the next 15,” exclaimed Schnapp. Now that the new contract has been inked, Tarpon Bay Explorers will start to replenish equipment lost from the storm and rebuild all aspects of the operation. By the end of the year, the concession plans to have a couple of pontoons for rent and fishing charters, bike rentals and a replenished kayak and paddleboard fleet. The Nature Cruise including the Touch Tank and Aquarium experience, more bikes, more rental boats, a live bait tank and more fabulous items for the nature gift shop will be soon to follow! 

Tarpon Bay Explorers currently operates on a limited schedule. The concession located at 900 Tarpon Bay Rd is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to 5pm for kayak, paddleboard and hobie kayak rentals and the nature gift shop. Kayak tours of Commodore Creek and Tram tours of Wildlife Drive are also currently offered on a limited basis. Please visit  www.tarponbayexplorers.com for exact days and times and to make reservations. A percentage of all sales benefit National Wildlife Refuges around the country. Please come visit the Explorers family soon: help us rebuild and share in the magic of the resurgence of all of the natural beauty of Tarpon Bay and “Ding” Darling. Thank you to all of our loyal customers throughout the years and we welcome any and all nature lovers. You can also follow Tarpon Bay Explorers on their FaceBook and Instagram pages.