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The Space Coast and Titusville - Where Rockets and Wildlife Meet

Florida is an amazing place. You can travel to any part of it and find, in amongst the tourist attractions, places where wildlife and wilderness coexist side by side with human technology. Titusville and the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast in Brevard County is one of those places.
The members of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, (http://www.fowa.org) get an opportunity to enjoy a different region of Florida for our yearly conference. In 2012 we returned to Titusville, and I thought I had already seen everything the area has to offer. We were familiar with the Space Center, Merritt Island and the wildlife refuge, the wild beaches of Canaveral, the fishing opportunities in the Mosquito lagoon, the Indian River and offshore, and the boating and kayaking that is so popular. But the one thing we were not aware of, was a program Brevard county has implemented to preserve and conserve endangered lands so anyone can enjoy many wild places and activities in the area. I will talk about this exciting program later in the article.


Merritt Island and the Canaveral Beaches

Merritt Island, a 35 mile long barrier island, aside from being the home of the Kennedy Space Center is known the world over for it's incredible diversity of landscape and habitat and numbers of birds and animals. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge covers over 140,000 acres, and shares its land with the NASA'S Kennedy Space Center. More than 358 species of birds, 117 species of fish, 31 species of mammals, 68 species of reptiles, and 1000 species of plants inhabit the refuge. Twenty four miles of primitive beaches afford over 5000 nesting turtles a safer haven than most beaches, due to lack of development and access. The beaches also support sport fishing, and offer beachgoers a quiet solitude where neither buildings nor seawalls disturb this wilderness seashore. Walking the wide expanse of beach, with few people, was such a pleasure- with just the sounds of the waves and gulls. We watched a kayaker riding the waves, and part of our group decided body boarding couldn't be missed. Due to some recent storms, the waves were challenging. At both the Wildlife Refuge and the seashore, nature lives in harmony with the Space Center.
Until the 1950's, salt marsh mosquitoes were a real problem, and could produce millions of mosquitoes per square yard per day. Because salt marsh mosquitoes won't lay their eggs in fresh water, engineers divided almost 70,000 acres into walled impoundments and regulated water levels, salinity and the mosquitoes. This also attracted new residents aside from the waterfowl. Over 14 threatened and endangered species call this place home. Today, you can still see the original salt marshes.
A must-do on this tour is to drive the six mile Black Point Wildlife Drive, a circular one way loop that affords up close and personal bird and wildlife viewing.To get to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral Beaches, from I-95, go east on 406 to 402. Do make a point of going to the Visitors Center! Go to http://www.fws.gov/merrittisland or http://www.nbbd.com/godo/minwr
Thousands of birders descend on the Titusville area for the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival every January. The winter months are the best time to view all the migratory birds that descend on the refuge and surrounding areas by the hundreds of thousands. When we were there in September, only a few species of birds were visible, but even then the refuge is impressive. Clams, oysters, fish and shrimp begin their lives in the fertile nurseries of the Mosquito Lagoon, the Indian River and mangroves. This year's Birding Festival is scheduled for January 23-28, 2013. It features birding field trips, seminars, art shows, vendors and seminars. Several years ago, I had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker to this event, and can attest to the variety of activities, field trips, and photo opportunities...not to be missed! Additional information is available at http://www.spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org

  • Merritt Island Bridge
  • Sailboat And Rainbow
  • Sailboat And Rainbow
  • Merritt Island Bridge


Sand Point Park/Dixie Crossroads

One night our group gathered at Sand Point Park along the Indian River Lagoon for a "Low Country Boil" provided by Dixie Crossroads Restaurant. We watched the rainbows over the darkening sky and photographed the colorfully lighted Merritt Island Bridge.
Dixie Crossroads is one of our favorite restaurants, renown for their rock and red shrimp. They are located on the south side of Rt 406, 2 miles east of I-95. http://www.DixieCrossroads.com

  • Hobie Kayak Catamaran
  • Hobie Mirage Tandem
  • Paddleboard And Kayak
  • Paddleboarding
  • Photography From Hobie Kayak
  • Photography Hobie Mirage
  • Sailing Hobie Kayak
  • Sailing Hobie Kayak
  • Pelicans in Flight
  • Pelicans Over Canal Lagoon
  • Shoreline And Clouds
  • Photography Hobie Mirage


HaulOver Canal

The next day we traveled back to the Refuge to Haulover Canal that connects the Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River. Take Rt 406 east- and turn left at the sign. Manatees and dolphins play and feed in that area. There are boat ramps, and areas where you can also put in your canoe or kayak.
Hobie Kayaks provided us with the new pedal kayaks, both single and tandem - the Mirage and Oasis models. There was also a pedal kayak catamaran sail boat!
Using your legs to pedal, instead of paddling (there was a paddle available on the kayak), made it so much easier for me, as a photographer, to keep dry, and the rudder lever on the side enabled me to turn on a dime to set up shots! The only downside to these types of kayaks is that in very shallow water, you may have to pull up the "flippers" and use the paddle. You also had to use the paddle to back up, but most of the time you could just turn around without having to do that. We loved those boats. Even in a stiff head wind and with some waves, we could easily pedal and move very quickly without much effort. If you have shoulder problems, what a godsend! We could not do that with a regular kayak or canoe. These kayaks will enable you to access places you probably couldn't, because of waves or wind.
They also had paddle boards for people to try out, and they were very popular with the crowd.
Check out the kayaks, sail boats and paddle boards at http://www.HobieCat.com or http://www.HobieCat.com/kayaking

  • Enchanted Forest
  • Enchanted Forest
  • Enchanted Forest Scrub
  • John Sams Homestead
  • Enchanted Forest Scrub


EELS Program-The Saving of Wild Places

In 1990, Brevard County established the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EELS) Program to protect the natural habitats of Brevard County by acquiring environmentally sensitive lands for conservation, passive recreation, and environmental education. The citizens voted to tax themselves up to $55 million dollars for the acquisition and maintenance of Brevardís natural areas. (About 25 cents for every $1000 assessed value of land). Residents reaffirmed the EELS Program in 2004 under a second referendum to additionally protect the natural habitats within Brevard County by the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands from willing sellers. Over 24,000 acres of threatened habitat are protected. A seven member volunteer committee of scientists decides on the acquisition and management of these lands. To help fund this huge endeavor, the EELS Program forms partnerships with federal, state and local agencies that are committed to the protection of natural resources. EELS sanctuaries are managed to preserve native habitats and the plants and animals that live there. What the people of Brevard County have realized is when we have protected wild places, we improve the quality of life for everyone, residents and visitors. The three goals of the EELS program are conservation, education, and passive recreation (like hiking, biking, horseback riding, catch and release fishing, paddling, and photography). This increases tourism, property values, and results in increased business in the area. There are 22 EELS sites to visit! We had a chance to visit only two places. The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary across from the Space Coast Regional Airport on SR 405. They had a Visitors Center, Educational Center, boardwalk, and 470 acres of hammock, scrub, wetlands and pine flatlands with hiking trails. The John Sam's Homestead on Pine Island Conservation area, a 947 acre site, is a restored cabin and home of one of the original residents of the area. It dates to 1875 and is the oldest standing home in Brevard County. A paved trail has interactive exhibits of Pine Island's past inhabitants, including mastodon, sloth and the early Native Americans. Hiking, biking, horse back riding, fishing and paddling can be enjoyed here.
It would take several weeks to enjoy all the sites, and all the activities they have to offer. With fall coming, and the migratory birds coming in, it should even be more thrilling to see even more wildlife. So bring your camera, your canoe or kayak, your fishing pole, your boat, or your bike! Go to http://www.EELBrevard.com or http://www.BrevardCounty.us/EELProgram

  • Jim Durocher of Spacecoast Kayaking
  • Jim Durocher Trip Briefing
  • Heron Watching
  • Kayaker in Mangrove
  • Kayakers on Mangrove Trails
  • Kayakers Resting
  • Kayaking 1000 Islands
  • Kayaking 1000 Islands
  • Kayaking 1000 Islands
  • Kayaking Mangrove Tunnels
  • Kayaking Mangrove Tunnels
  • Moon Jellies in Lagoon
  • Osprey
  • Kayaking Through Mangrove Tunnels


Thousand Islands - Kayaking

The next day, we drove down to Cocoa Beach to the Thousand Island Conservation area (part of the EELs Program) to meet with Jim Durocher, who runs Space Coast Kayaking. This area has over 300 acres of islands, in the Indian River Lagoon, south of the Minuteman Causeway. The only access is by boat. Three species of mangroves, black, white and red, create mangrove tunnels, and channels which provide excellent kayaking and wildlife observing. We did see manatee, dolphin, and many wading birds and osprey. Huge moon jellies could be seen swimming. Jim is a passionate conservationist and works with the EELS Program. He has extensive knowledge of the area and it's environmental challenges. You will come away with an enhanced knowledge of what is happening to our endangered lands in this area. He has kayaking tours running daily. The tours are about 3 hours in duration. He also offers (in summer), bioluminescence night kayaking tours. Just putting your paddle in the water makes the water glow like neon. Tiny animals (dinoflagellates), when disturbed, emit this eerie light.
Call Jim at (321)-784-2452 or (321)-243-0279 (cell) or spacecoastkayaking@yahoo.com or http://www.spacecoastkayaking.net

We did not even begin to scratch the surface of the activities this area has to offer. The Kennedy Space Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, with special events. There are shooting ranges in the county, zipline tours, horseback tours, boating and airboat tours, biking tours, parasailing and parachute jumping. The list of activities seems endless. I live only 2.5 hours away and I plan to come back!


Accommodations

There are many places to stay in Titusville. Our conference was held at the Holiday Inn at the I95/Rt 50 intersection. Very reasonable with every amenity you need, excellent complimentary breakfast buffet and a good restaurant. There was also a Hampton Inn, and a Fairmont Inn at the same location, with a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in front. This location made it very easy to access all the places we needed to get to in Titusville, Merritt Island, and beyond.

For more information, contact

Tom Bartosek
Space Coast Office of Tourism
430 Brevard Ave., #150
Cocoa FL 32922
(877) 572-3224
(321) 433-4470
Fax: (321) 433-4476
http://www.VisitSpaceCoast.com

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