VIERA — Though oftentimes at odds with one another, when science and nature assemble harmoniously, great things can happen. A prime example of the beauty born from such a union is the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, commonly referred to as the Viera Wetlands.
The man-made wetlands are named in honor of Ritch Grissom, a 16-year, county employee who held a position at the Brevard County South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, constructed to provide wastewater treatment for the Suntree, Viera, and N. Wickham Road areas.
The plant currently treats six million gallons of water per day. When first built in 1991, the reclaimed water was sent to a neighboring sod farm and then to local golf courses. However, due to an excess of water, the county sought permission to discharge the overage into the St. Johns River during the stormy season.
In an effort to halt river pollution, the facility was upgraded to a Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) facility, which filters and chlorinates the water for lawn irrigation, and polishes the water, which eliminates excess phosphorous.
Now utilized as seasonal storage basins, the Viera Wetlands and accompanying Storage Ponds were created not only to treat/store water (siphoning overflow via a 4-mile canal) but to offer a pleasing, conservation component to the area. The area not only benefits residents and ecotourists, but especially, the wildlife and vegetation that call Florida home.
The marsh is situated on 200 acres, constructed with careful regard to natural wetlands, keeping disruption at a minimum. The area is comprised of four cells and a central lake, each separated by berms consisting of a clay core and natural soils. The berms provide navigational pathways (2.5 mile loop) and confine the water to the respective cells and lake.
Cells 1 and 2 are deep marshes where underwater gems such as water lilies and southern naiads flourish. Cells 3 and 4 are flag marshes. These cells are shallower and support nesting areas for a variety of shorebirds. Each cell houses a central island, not accessible to visitors, but of vital importance to over 200,000 species of plants. These plants are likewise vital to the wildlife that reside there.
The lake is 29- feet at maximum depth, but the perimeter accommodates a 3-foot shelf which contains a wetland mitigation area required by the Department of Environmental Protection. Scientific surveys of the mitigation area are conducted throughout the year, and monitored by the Natural Resources Management Office.
From the teeniest microorganism on up through the food chain, the Viera Wetlands is home to snails, frogs, and fish of all sizes and species. The birding community considers the Wetlands a true prize. Bird enthusiasts come from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the cinnamon teal duck, canvas backs, the blue-tinged boat-tailed crackle, egrets, bald eagles, or the crested caracara, to name but a few. In 2002, the wetlands were home to the first mangrove swallow sighting in the United States.
There's often excitement when nature lovers spot larger animals such as the river otter, aquatic turtles, white-tailed deer, or alligator, which all thrive at the Wetlands.
The glory of the Viera Wetlands is accessible to the public free of charge, welcoming over 210,000 annual visitors eager to experience its quiet, ethereal splendor mere steps from the hustle and bustle of society.
“It was a wonderful, thrilling experience to see alligators up close,” said Ruth Moore visiting from Germantown, Wisconsin. “It was amazing to catch the sun setting over the Wetlands as the birds are settling in for the night. I highly recommend a visit,” she added.
Located in Viera, west of the traffic circle on Wickham Road, you’ll find the entrance at 3658 Charlie Corbeil Way. Parking is provided and public access to the berms is allowed from dusk to dawn. Motorized vehicles may be allowed when site conditions permit.
The berms are usually accessible by foot or bicycle regardless of vehicle closures. Visitors should contact the hotline at 321-355-4488 for daily updates.
The Wetlands deliver year-round natural wonder, but the best time of year to visit begins with the fall migration, around late November. January/February is peak breeding season during which you can spot the brilliant nuptial plumage of mating birds.
Macro-photographers will enjoy the many Florida wildflowers seeded along the perimeter of the lake, by the gazebo, and at butterfly garden.
You can take advantage of two observation decks on either side of the lake which offer breathtaking panoramas, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
The Viera Wetlands is managed by the Brevard Utility Services but it isn’t a park or preserve, and so the Viera Wetlands Volunteer Program was created. Volunteers concentrate on staffing, funding, ongoing maintenance, etc. The Wetlands are made possible thanks to their hard work and donations.
The most important point of note is to heed caution and stay alert. The wildlife and vegetation aren’t caged or roped off. Remember, this is their space and it’s best to be respectful for their sake and yours.
Safety for all is of great concern. Please observe the warning signs posted for your convenience, i.e., don’t approach the alligators and stay on the berm.
For more information regarding hours of operation, safety protocols, volunteering, school field-trip opportunities, the Viera Wetland Festival, and more please visit the following sites: http://www.grissomwetlands.org/ and https://viera.com/attractions/viera-wetlands, or call the information hotline at 321-637-5521, or the road conditions hotline at 321-355-4488.