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The Value of Outdoor Education


Not every classroom has four walls.  

At J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, educational opportunities are almost endless.  You can even incorporate the latest smart phone technology into your summer nature learning explorations!

For instance, geo-caching is one way to engage your kids with electronics in the great outdoors.  Our friends at Ding Darling offer an Earth-Cache that you can find at  They also have our own GPS-assisted game app called Discover Ding, which you can download for free and play together or compete against one another.

During the summer, Ding Darling’s weekly family tours and programs are free and include storytelling, nature crafts, hiking, beach walking, and learning about wildlife.  Just click here to learn more about their programs.

At the main Refuge campus, you can visit the hands-on exhibits inside the free “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center, where they feature special interactive exhibits on manatees, alligators, ducks, sea turtles and birds.  After a visit to the center, take your family down a cool, shady walk along Indigo Trail.  It leads to the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, from which you can often see baby birds and alligators this time of year.  Kids love the dozen or so scat boxes that will have them guessing, laughing, and learning about animals.

Jump on a bike or in a car to make the 8-mile loop around Wildlife, where you never know what you’re going to see in the wetlands and along the short trails.

Ding’s recreation concession, Tarpon Bay Explorers, offers narrated tours of the drive, and can set you up with kayak, canoe, or paddleboard rentals and tours.  Morning and sunset pontoon boat cruises take you into wildlife habitat when the animals are most active.

Other exciting things happening at the Refuge include improved trails and interpretive kiosks at Bailey Tract, a 100-acre property a few miles away from the Refuge’s main campus, which loops around a freshwater pond where alligators and shorebirds live.  Perry Tract, a small parcel adjacent to Gulfside City Park beach (right next door to Ocean’s Reach), will also score new signage to make your beach explorations all that more enlightening.

Studies have shown that active kids are healthier, smarter, and more self-confident, so no matter which type of outdoor education experience you choose at Ding Darling this summer, your family will benefit from immersing yourselves in nature!



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