Discovering landmarks of significant importance and beauty in my own backyard makes me feel a) lucky and b) negligent. As a native to the area and self-proclaimed nature lovah, how could I not know the story behind Pelican Island National Wildlife Sanctuary? Was I ill the day of that elementary school field trip?
Pelican Island became America’s first wildlife refuge by the hand of pioneer naturalist, Paul Kroegel and, ultimately, the country’s premier conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt. A detailed history can be found here, including information about the refuge’s inaccessibility (one could only reach it by boat) the first 100 years it existed! Cue native-Floridian-guilt-relief. In 2003, a wonderful network of trails and didactics were built on the refuge to allow visitors an easier trek. I explored those trails on a crisp January afternoon and they were rich in flora, fauna and Orchid Island charm.
The refuge lies just west of Jungle Trail, an old, unpaved citrus trail that we used to ride along in my dad’s old, yellow VW Thing. I grew up on the ocean a handful of miles north, so these were my stomping grounds. The nostalgia was palpable as I turned off A1A, although the road is notably less wild and unruly as it was when I was little. So, for the record, when I was little, it stormed every single afternoon, like clockwork, during summer and Jungle Trail was fructiferous and dense!
Thanks to the Professor’s brand-new pickup truck, fresh off the lot, I was able to explore the habitat via bicycle, which made the 4-5 mile ride comfortable and pleasant, despite some patchy areas of challenging terrain (mostly high grass and sand, which my beachcruiser handled well). There are nice parking areas to access all of the trails: Centennial, Pete’s Impoundment and the Bird Impoundment. Bikes “are not allowed” on the foot trails and boardwalks, so do as I say, not as I do!
The Centennial Boardwalk and Tower will be added to my list of to-do’s for out of town guests, considering it offers rewarding views for little sweat equity. I didn’t take photos from the stilted observation deck, simply because I didn’t want to interrupt the experience. Sometimes I worry I sacrifice presence of mind as I look through the lens, ready for the best shot.
Pete’s Trail offers a bit more of a challenge, and I can only imagine how buggy and hot the experience might be on a summer day, but it is worth the investment. The 3.5 mile loop along the salt marsh shoreline includes another observation “dock” that overlooks a pure, Floridian landscape. Fishermen: you’d love this trail. Birdwatchers: you’ll die for this trail.
Spotted through the lens of a telescope, through the lens of an I-phone, an osprey wearing a bald eagle’s costume.
A butterfly garden and benches near the trail head inspires a rest-stop following the hike; watch as they dance around you and enjoy a bite to eat, like I did. Binoculars are helpful and recommended…
I didn’t have a chance to explore all of the trails, so I will repeat this trip again before the temperatures rise too much. I was interested in programs, events or educational offerings for the year, but the website was last updated 3 years ago in regard to those happenings. But, Pelican Island Preservation Society
‘s website offers current information, tastefully presented, which is to be expected from a refuge that shares its island with Windsor Polo Club and the town of Orchid. I’ll be adding the annual Wildlife Festival
to my social calender, along with another pang of Floridian-guilt. Live music, kayak tours, food and a raffle to win a custom, wooden, hand-carved kayak? Yes, please. How did I not know about this
I can’t help but imagine how stunning the refuge might be on a full moon night or for sunset. I guess you could say I am smitten.