Saturday, February 26, 2011

ROAD TRIP: Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge; Melbourne Beach, Florida

Pelican Island; the first wildlife refuge in the United States
My grandparents have been spending their winters in Melbourne Beach, Florida; a barrier island off the eastern coast of Florida, since the 1980s.  The area was suggested to them by my other grandmother, Mary, who lived in Melbourne Beach and ran a small motel when my mom was a child.  And as a kid, my family would come down to Florida most winters to get away from the freezing cold in Michigan, but since Josh and I moved to Colorado 8 years ago, we haven't visited the Sunshine State. 
One of the first things that I noticed about Melbourne Beach, that probably wouldn't have occurred to me in my youth, is that the island has numerous parks and trails for hiking, biking and wildlife viewing.  So, I was really glad that my Aunt Chris and Uncle Rob asked if Josh and I wanted to go check out Pelican Island and take a hike, or we could go to Ron Jon's Surf Shop, they added.  Josh and I both echoed 'hike' and we were on our way.  

Getting there:  The Wildlife Refuge has a great website with maps, directions and more information on the park and it's history.   The directions copied here are from their website;
From A1A:  Traveling South - Cross over the Sebastian Inlet State Park Bridge (South of Melbourne Beach), continue for 3 miles, turn right onto Historic Jungle Trail.
Traveling North - From Vero Beach, at the intersection of Wabasso Road (County Road 510) continue to drive north 3.7 miles on A1A, turn left onto Historic Jungle Trail.
Greenery from the boardwalk

Specs:   The park has restrooms, several miles of hiking/walking trails, wildlife viewing and more.  Check their site for more info. 

The Journey:  Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge was the first refuge in the United States, it was started by a man named Paul Kroegel, who used to sit on the 5 acre mangrove island and protect the bird population with his shotgun, because there were no laws to protect these birds.   Eventually, Pelican Island was visited by a well known ornithologist, Chapman, who noted that the island was one of the last places for the Brown Pelicans to nest, and he pledged to protect these birds.  In 1903, President Roosevelt signed an executive order to make Pelican Island the first wildlife refuge in the United States.   Now there are hundreds of refuges across the country, and each one is named in date succession along the boardwalk to view Pelican Island. 
It was a beautiful, sunny Florida afternoon as we started up the boardwalk to view Pelican Island, Josh and I enjoyed looking at all the other wildlife refuges along the way, picking out Colorado's and some of the other states.  The boardwalk is elevated off the ground and I expected to see snakes or alligators below, but was disappointed there were none; if I was going to see one of those creatures, it's nice to be high above them for viewing.  When we reached the end of the boardwalk there are binoculars and a viewing area for the small island, but you cannot go out to it, of course.   After taking in the views, we walked back down the quarter mile boardwalk and decided to walk on one of the many trails in the Refuge. 

White bird in middle of photo across swamp, real or fake?
We chose one of the 2.5 mile loops that we saw on the trail map and started walking.  The mangrove was so thick that it was hard to see the Indian River even though it was just a few feet away from us.  We walked along with Rob and Chris, chatting easily, no mountains to climb up and take your breathe away in Florida, all the while I kept looking for snakes to not step on and alligators to take photos of. 
After a mile we reached the second wildlife viewing area, and we walked out on the bridge and boardwalk to see the sand cracks and swampy area.  We noted a white bird way across the swamp, and Uncle Rob remarked it was probably fake, just so people would have something to take photos of.  Even though we didn't see any animals, I happy to snap photos of the greenery and scenery that is so different from Colorado. 
We decided to head back the way we came instead of finishing the rest of the loop, which was very similar to the first half, according to Uncle Rob; and I was happy to walk back the way we came, snapping photos of the moths and birds that we came across along the way.  Below are a few more pics of the Pelican Refuge and our journey.  Melbourne Beach offers so many places enjoy nature in a small area on the barried island and I can see why my grandmother Mary loved this area and made it her home for so many years before moving back to Michigan. 
If you live in the area, I'd love to hear about your favorite trails, hikes or places to check out the wildlife, please leave me a comment! 

I love the sand cracks in the swamp! 

White moth enjoying some lunch

Josh and I at the second viewing area

Driftwood and swampy cracks

I love moths and butterflies ~ this field was filled with them!


  1. I haven't visited here, but a friend was telling me about this a while ago, and I would love to visit, so it is great to read about it. Maybe next winter I will escape the cold and pay a visit.

  2. I am in Colorado, so I was escaping winter too! Florida has so many State Parks and nature trails ~ its great!

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