Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Filed under: Vacation Tips |

I was recently talking to a couple of homeowners about some of the great things there are to do in Florida and how you really can get away from all the hustle and bustle of the theme parks if you desire. We were chatting for a little while and they mentioned how much they enjoyed visiting Merritt Island and the National Wildlife Refuge.

I hadn’t been there so I quizzed them a little more and now it’s high on my list of places to visit when I’m next on the Space Coast. For those that don’t know Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located due east of Titusville in Brevard County and and occupies approximately 140,000 acres.

To the north, it borders on the Canaveral National Seashore and to the south it borders on the Kennedy Space Center which in turn abuts Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River.

Many recreational opportunities are offered at the Refuge.  Bird and wildlife observation, a wildlife drive, manatee observation deck, fishing and hunting opportunities, and boating and paddling are examples of available activities.

The refuge provides a range of habitats, from saltwater estuaries and freshwater impoundments and marshes, to dunes, hardwood hammocks and scrub.  It is therefore rich in over 1000 species of plants, 117 species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds and 31 mammal species.  Of these species, 21 are on the endangered list either by the state of Florida or by the US federal government. The following are some of the more important species using the refuge and most of them nest there:

Sea turtles (Loggerhead &  Green turtle), American Alligator, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Waterfowl, Shorebirds, Heron, Egret, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Florida Scrub jay, West Indian Manatee, Florida Panther and a recently discovered salamander.

Subject to the needs of NASA, public access is relatively unrestricted, though it is only allowed during daylight hours and camping  is only allowed for certain organized youth organizations.

The refuge provides hiking and driving trails for visitors, (yep, you don’t need to leave the comfort and safety of your vehicle), with excellent opportunities for observing wildlife without causing disturbance; most of the species listed above can be seen by a casual visitor. An observation deck is provided near the drawbridge that carries State Road 3 over the Haulover Canal, in the northern part of the refuge, since manatees frequently congregate there.

Boating is permitted on the waters around and within the refuge, and provides another excellent opportunity for observing the wildlife; there are facilities for launching pleasure boats at several places. In addition the refuge includes, and gives access to the unspoiled Playalinda Beach, known for its surfing spots,  on the outer barrier island and if you’re into fishing, then this  is generally permitted while hunting for wildfowl is allowed on a strictly limited basis.

So if your tired of the Orlando theme parks and just want a quiet day then why not head out to Merritt Island. It’s about 45 to 60 minutes drive and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the beach as it is open  to the public daily between 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the winter and 6:00 am to 8:00 pm in the summer and also some a great National Wildlife Refuge.

Do note however, that access to the beach may be closed periodically in preparation for Space Shuttle  or other rocket launches so you may want to check with the Visitor Center , located 4 miles east of Titusville, before heading out on 321-861-0668.

Finally, I’d just like to say many thanks to Andrew and Fay Roe for the pictures that you see here. They give a stunning view of what you can expect and how the real Florida really is.

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