The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society and Lee County announced on March 17 that Sanibel Island's historic 6.5-acre Woodring property had been acquired through a collaborative venture to conserve the local environment.
The property was purchased for $3 million with funds from both Lee County's Conservation 20/20 Program -- enacted by conservationists in 1996 to purchase undeveloped natural areas using a portion of property taxes -- and the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society.
The wildlife society raised $1.8 million in private donations to help pay for the acquisition, which was the first of its kind on Sanibel Island.
The historic Woodring homestead on Tarpon Bay. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Birgit Miller, executive director of the wildlife society, said county and island officials were both interested in acquiring the Woodring property for some time, yet it hadn't become a reality until they decided to purchase it together.
"The desire was all about protecting such an important parcel of land that was connected to existing refuge land," said Miller. "It's the access to Tarpon Bay and the water entrance to the refuge."
The property, one of the last undeveloped waterfront properties on the island, contains a number of unique habitats with species listed as endangered or threatened, so environmental officials wanted to secure its protection.
The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is currently managed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which will also oversee the Woodring property, and researchers will be able to monitor more of the refuge's estuaries and wildlife.
Not only will the Woodring property assist "Ding" Darling staff in preserving the ecosystem, but it's also an important cultural and historical center of the island. Samuel Woodring was Sanibel's first homesteader in 1881. The residence was built in 1916 and is an enduring example of the architectural style of the "Florida Cracker."
Ralph Woodring, the son of the island's infamous first female charter boat captain Esperanza Woodring, owns The Bait Box on Periwinkle. The Woodring family had been managing the historical property before its acquisition, except for a small portion hanging over the refuge's border.
Officials from the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society were pleased with the Lee County partnership.
"This was an unique partnership that benefitted the wildlife and conservation in an important way," said John McCabe, president of the wildlife society. "We are grateful to Lee County, the refuge, and all of our contributors who helped us reach our Preservation Campaign goals in a very short time."
The $1.8 million raised by the wildlife society was part of their ongoing Refuge Preservation Campaign.
"Incredible community support made this happen," said Preservation Campaign Chair Jim Sprankle. "I've been involved in a lot of fundraisers, but this one was so gratifying. I saw a lot of love for the refuge."
For more information, visit dingdarlingsociety.org.