Thursday, October 3, 2013

BiWL Column: Awaiting Wildlife Drive reopening on Sanibel

BWL's column highlights the new biking opportunities through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge....although delayed by the government shutdown!

News-Press"Go Coastal" section: Oct. 3, 2013 
Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling Refuge

Ready for a ride through the Refuge? You’ll find a smoother road ahead, thanks to recent improvements. But, thanks to the federal government shutdown, you’re going to have to wait a little longer to try the new roadway out.

The venerable J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel has long been a bicyclist destination, combining an up-close trip through a natural national treasure with easy access via Sanibel’s extensive bike-path system. But Wildlife Drive has been closed to traffic since mid-May, as the road was resurfaced and other habitat restoration and management measures were undertaken.

What greeted visitors on Oct. 1st--"opening day"

The roadwork is a big boost for bicyclists, replacing the old pervious pavement installed in 2002 (which failed well ahead of schedule) with a much more ridable asphalt surface. So, many of you riders who sacrificed comfort for your close-to-nature experience can now enjoy a nicer ride as you enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

And here’s a lot to enjoy: the refuge offers 6,400 acres of natural beauty in mangrove forests, seagrass beds, upland hammocks and estuarine waters. Beside the 4.23-mile Wildlife Drive which runs through the refuge (and links to island roads and bike paths to create a roughly 8-mile bike loop) there are shorter trails for hiking or biking — all of which offer you the chance to see a lot of animals and birds in the natural habitat.

That’s the real plus to the drive’s reopening: The chance to get on a bike (and get out of your car) to enjoy a unique natural experience. Thanks to the bike’s slower pace and unenclosed access, you really can appreciate more of what the refuge has to offer — the smells and sounds and sensations, the quick glimpse of a wild animal you miss if you were behind the wheel, the vast vistas that beg you to stop, stand still and take it all in.

On almost any day (at least those when the federal government is open and has a budget in place), you get a breathtaking slice of nature that’s unique to Southwest Florida — which is why people regularly come back to visit. Why not grab your bike and join them?

Sneak preview of new road surface

 If you ride:

Until the federal budget impasse is resolved, the refuge will remain closed to visitors. 
Regular refuge hours are:Wildlife Drive: 7:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. through October, hours change based on time changes and sunset. No traffic allowed on Fridays. There is no bike lane, but the overall slow traffic speeds (the 15 mph speed limit is enforced for both bikes and cars) make sharing the road safe for even timid riders. 

There are also shorter side trails for hiking and biking. NOTE: Wildlife Drive is one-way for all traffic. Unpaved Indigo Trail is not the best place to ride with skinnier bike road tires, so plan accordingly.

Education Center: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. through Dec. 31; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. after Jan. 1.

An entrance fee of $5 per vehicle and $1 per pedestrian/bicyclist over 15 is required. Visitors with a current Federal Duck Stamp, Senior Pass, Access Pass, Annual Pass or Refuge Annual Pass are not required to pay the entrance fee. A self-guided tape/CD about the Wildlife Drive and a souvenir booklet are available for purchase in the Education Center.

Bike rentals are available at Tarpon Bay Explorers; information online at

Upcoming events

• Saturday, Oct. 5: Lexington Cares 5K, Lexington Country Club, South Fort Myers (
• Saturday, Oct. 19: Sanibel 10K Race 4 F.I.S.H., Sanibel Community House (
• Saturday, Oct. 26: Race the Roof 5K/15K, Verandah, East Fort Myers (
• Sunday, Nov. 10: Streets Alive!, downtown Fort Myers River District (
• Monday, Nov. 11: Veterans Day 5K, Midpoint Bridge (
• Thursday, Nov. 28, Turkey Trot 5K, Cape Coral Hospital (
• Sunday, Dec. 8: Everyone Runs, JetBlue Park. 5K and half-marathon (

Cycling and other events:
• Friday-Sunday, Oct. 25-27: Share the Road Celebration of Cycling, DeLand, FL (
• Sunday, Nov. 10: Streets Alive!, downtown Fort Myers River District (
• Sunday, Nov. 10: River Ride, Caloosahatchee Regional Park, Alva (
• Sunday, Nov. 29: Turkey Leg Century Ride, Publix, Six Mile Cypress at Daniels Parkway ( (Note: A self-supported ride)
• Sunday, Dec. 8: Everyone Rides, JetBlue Park. 15, 30, 62 and 100 mile rides — Fort Myers (
• Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 18-19, Tour de Cape, Cape Harbour Resort, Cape Coral (

— BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

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