MERRITT ISLAND — The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are finally at our doorstep. And with them, all the outdoor adventures we know and love about Florida living are here, too.
Brevard County provides every outdoor activity you could possibly muster and one of the best places to take advantage of them is at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR).
Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NWR boasts 140,000 acres of wildlife preserve housing more than 500 species of animals and over 1,000 species of plants. With access to the Indian River, Mosquito Lagoon, and the Canaveral National Seashore (CNS), you have the makings of a perfect day, whatever your pleasure.
If you’re in the mood to get your heart pumping, the Refuge offers seven walking trails ranging from a quarter of a mile at the Visitor Center Boardwalk, to five miles at the Cruickshank Trail and Tower. The hammock trails offer respite from the sun, but other trails are in low brush and marshes. These trails are best appreciated in the morning or late afternoon during the summer.
You can begin your day at the Visitor Center Boardwalk. The Center itself is currently closed until further notice but an Information Tent (closed at 4 p.m.) and Nature Store (closed at 3 p.m.) are located in the parking lot Friday through Sunday. Here you can stock up on brochures and maps and get the lay of the land by staff members eager to help.
The boardwalk behind the Visitor Center is a fairly simple walk with water vistas, hammock trails, an osprey nest and butterfly garden. Informational signs point out the many plants and animals you may come across, along with interesting tidbits such as the Native American use of the buttonbrush bark to cure fevers, sore eyes, and toothaches, despite its somewhat poisonous qualities.
Not in the mood for a stroll in the heat of the day? That’s perfectly all right because the Refuge also offers a couple of driving trails. The Black Point Wildlife Drive is a 7-mile, one-way meander through salt and freshwater marshes. Black Point provides splendid wildlife viewing, particularly for the bird enthusiast. Here you can view and photograph hundreds of different species. Be sure to keep an eye out for the roseate spoonbill’s pretty, pink plumage.
Drive slowly and remain quiet and still for a chance at glimpsing the many other species of wildlife that can be found along Black Point Drive such as the river otter, Florida banded watersnake, alligator, and bobcat.
The Bio Lab Wildlife Drive is a 5-mile, one-way drive with spectacular views of Mosquito Lagoon. You’ll find various coves and nooks perfect for sunning, fishing, and wading. Stake your claim early to enjoy a quiet day at the shore peacefully secluded from the rest of the world.
A few miles north of the Bio Lab Drive you’ll find the Manatee Observation deck. The deck is situated on the bank of the Haulover Canal which connects Mosquito Lagoon to the Indian River. All three are available to boaters, kayakers, and fisherman alike. The canal is also a manatee concentration area, thus the name.
Manatees can be seen here throughout the year, especially during the spring and fall migration as the herds search for warm water. Up to 30 manatees have been spotted here during migratory periods. Pro Tip: to the left of the deck is a shallow cove where manatees like to relax. You’re likely to spot one or two of them here.
The watersport lover in you is equally appeased at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards may be used. You have five boat launches to choose from with access to Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River. A $10 Refuge Daily Pass is required to launch a boat from Bairs Cove, Bio Lab, and Beacon 42 boat ramps. The daily passes are sold on an honor system at each site, or one can be purchased at the information tents by the Visitor Center Friday through Sunday.
NWR abuts the Canaveral National Seashore roads and beaches, although CNR requires a separate daily and/or annual pass. From here you can access an additional 24 miles of serene, undeveloped shoreline perfect for a day of rest and relaxation.
Whether a walk in the woods under a thicket of live oaks, kayaking through waterways in search of shorebirds and manatees, sequestering yourself in a private cove off the Lagoon, or immersing your mind in thorough educational exploration, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has everything you need for the best that Florida has to offer.
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is open sunrise to sunset daily except during launches and three days prior. The drive trails are $10 per car for the day, or Florida residents can purchase an annual pass for $25.
Please be mindful of the park rules and regulations concerning wildlife and boat usage. Jet skis and airboats are not permitted. Fishing, crabbing, and hunting are allowed with proper permits and/or date restrictions. Leashed pets are permitted. Brochures and leaflets are available to you throughout the Refuge.
For more information, please call 321-867-0667, or the Visitor Center at (321) 861-0669, or visit - www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island.