Activities in Nature: Enjoying Local EcosystemsMar 30, 2021 01:45PM ● By Julie Peterson
The Space and Treasure Coast region has unique geography, which presents a multitude of outdoor adventure opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Miles of spectacular ocean beaches, lagoons, inland waterways, exotic wetlands and luscious forests host numerous animal species and varied flora year-round. In fact, because the region is located where temperate and sub-tropical climate zones meet, there are animals and plants here that exist nowhere else on Earth. This wide variety of natural spaces, and all that they offer, can be enjoyed by explorers, hikers, boaters, cyclists, birders, photographers and conservationist volunteers.
Research increasingly points to the importance of time in nature to improve health. Lowering stress levels, reducing blood pressure, enhancing the immune system, increasing self-esteem and reducing feelings of isolation are just some of the benefits that can be achieved by spending two hours outdoors each week. Even healthcare providers are getting onboard with the health benefits of nature and prescribing it to patients.
As the humid tropical weather sets in for summer, it’s best to beat the heat with early morning outdoor excursions that wrap up before midday, in addition to choosing shorter, shaded outings, with plenty of hydration and breaks.
With tens of thousands of acres of natural areas, we are truly fortunate to have huge doses of some of the best medicine around right in our backyards. Get out and soak it up!
Samsons Island is 52 acres in the Banana River and accessible only by boat. The river is part of the world famous Indian River Lagoon, which is the longest saltwater lagoon in Florida and has been called “the most diverse estuary in North America.” There is free boat transportation to the island each Sunday.
The island is a work in progress as volunteers continue to eradicate exotic plants in favor of native vegetation and add picnic areas and grills. The park offers visitors activities such as bird watching, walking nature trails and picnicking. Volunteer opportunities are always available through the Satellite Beach Recreation Department.
Environmental Learning Center (ELC) in the Indian River Lagoon is 64 acres of native flora and fauna with programs for adults, children and families to discover the natural world and unplug.
Adults can sign up for private family excursions that could include seine net fishing, campfire cooking, nature journaling, canoeing and more. There are also classes to discover more about the natural world. Of note is the Florida Master Naturalist Program, in conjunction with the University of Florida, which trains individuals to be citizen scientist volunteers and work toward a more sustainable future for all.
Kids of all ages, from toddler to teen, can learn how to enjoy outdoor exploration, develop into environmentally responsible citizens and gain experience taking part in community preservation opportunities. Field trips, nature kits, summer camps and virtual learning are all available.
Located between the Moccasin Island Tract of the River Lakes Conservation Area and the Brevard Zoo is Viera Wetlands, which encompasses 200 acres with a central lake and a shoreline planted with wildflowers. Accessible on foot or by bicycle, there is much to explore thanks to a long history of land stewardship. It’s a popular destination for birders and photographers, with an observation tower that overlooks the area.
The annual wetlands festival provides opportunities to explore the area, learn about the ecological environment and take part in exhibits, contest, and other family-friendly activities.
The Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program was set up for conservation of habitats for plants and animals, recreation and education. The program is made up of more than 20 sanctuaries including the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, the Pine Island Conservation Area, Malabar Scrub Sanctuary and the Barrier Island Ecosystem Center.
The EEL sites have a variety of passive recreation activities, including hiking, observing wildlife, taking guided tours, canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, horseback riding, bird watching and catch-and-release fishing, but not all are options at every sanctuary.
Volunteer opportunities abound to ensure future generations can enjoy these spaces as well. Consider signing up to remove invasive plants, lead hikes, build boardwalks, study habitats or develop educational materials.
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt who signed an Executive Order establishing Pelican Island as a ‘preserve and breeding ground for native birds’ to protect them from market hunters. It was the first time in United States history that federal lands were set aside specifically for the sake of wildlife. Pelican Island was the first component of what eventually became the National Wildlife Refuge System. Today there are 567 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts spanning 95 million acres of land.
To learn more about the history and wildlife at the refuge, meet and greets are happening every Saturday in April from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They also offer a wide variety of volunteer opportunities to keep the refuge ready for visitors. Volunteers assist staff with grounds and equipment maintenance, clerical duties, biological and habitat projects and visitor outreach.
The Oxbow Eco Center is offering guided nature programs, archery programs and spring break camps, to name a few. Volunteer opportunities give people the chance to hang out with like-minded folks and share the natural world with others. Whether volunteering one time or as part of an ongoing project, the opportunities are endless and training is available.
Supporting local environmentally sacred spaces is something that everyone can do, whether through a donation, an entrance fee, signing up for classes and outings, volunteering or simply using the spaces and leaving no trace. Supporting these beautiful and soul-nurturing spaces is important for our health, the health of those that follow us and the health of the ecosystems.
Click here: Guide to Local Activities