Ding's had enough.
The Sanibel wildlife refuge is covering the work of vandals defacing trees in an isolated trail. Island landscaper Robert Walton has donated his expertise, time, and materials to mask and mend gumbo limbo trees along the Calusa Shell Mound Trail at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, trees defaced by graffiti vandalism.
Walton owns Grounds By Green Ways, an island firm. He said the bio-degradable cloth masks the defacing, allowing the scarred bark time to re-generate. He donated several yards of the black material that is used for ground cover. The material is pinned behind the trees. Rangers and interns are monitoring the work, tracking the progress of the trees, eyeing the area for culprits. It is a federal crime to vandalize federal property.
Robert Walton (left), Toni Westland and Ding Darling intern Davis Horton
"It seems like a workable solution," Walton said.
Since 2010, carved graffiti on the trees has increased significantly. This week, Walton showed refuge interns how to wrap seven damaged trees with the corn-based landscape fabric that is rated to last 10 years.
"Rob (Walton) has advised us to cover the graffiti with landscape fabric to protect the trees from disease and allow the scarred trees to heal faster," Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said. "We hope this will also deter further vandalism. Seeing the graffiti seems to encourage more of it. We saw some fresh graffiti again when we went out to wrap this week."
Gumbo limbos are native island trees nicknamed tourist trees because their red, peeling bark resembles sunburned visitors. The gumbo limbo's soft, smooth bark is also more susceptible to vandals destructively carving their identity or affections into the vulnerable trees.
Westland said vandals have long carved trees. But the latest development demeans a public treasure.
"It used to be a symbol of love," she said, "and I get that. Now it's so offensive. It's unsightly, especially with so many children visiting the refuge."
Walton said residents have a deep affection for the refuge, and that many are concerned for the well-being of the wildlife, including trees.
"The refuge," he said, "has been good to Sanibel. It's like us giving back to nature."
Harming refuge wildlife and vandalizing federal property is unlawful and carries fines and possible jail penalties. Those with information about refuge vandalism are encouraged to contact Toni Westland at (239) 472-1100, ext. 237.
Details about the refuge, its history and programs are available at dingdarlingsociety.org.