Location: Titusville, Florida
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: Established in 1963, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge consists of 140,000 acres overlayed on the John F. Kennedy Space Center and abutting Canaveral National Seashore. The refuge protects and manages a wide range of diverse habitats including coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks providing habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, including the endangered Scrub Jay. Visitors can take advantage of a nice Visitor Center that includes exhibits about the habitats along with their plants and animals, a driving tour to some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities along the Black Point Wildlife Drive, and a number of hikes through different habitats.
1) The Visitor Center is very nice and surprising busy for the middle of the week. This is obviously a popular attraction for the snow birds the come to Florida for the winter. The volunteers were very helpful, providing us good information about the hiking trails.
2) We did not take advantage of the driving tour, opting to take in some of the hiking trails instead. The Scrub Ridge Trail is a very easy 1 mile loop through the rare scrub habitat. During the summer you would be exposed to the sun, but on a cool January day, it was very pleasant. We were fortunate to see a couple of the endangered Scrub Jay perched in the short trees.
3) We also hiked the Palm Hammock Trail that is a 2 mile loop to and around a palm hammock. It is unusual because most hammocks are dominated by hardwoods, whereas this hammock was almost exclusively cabbage palm trees. It is also obvious they have a feral hog problem on the refuge, as we saw a lot of sign of pig rooting in the forest floor and I think we got a glimpse of a feral hog taking off through the brush away from us.
4) We had lunch at the Haulover Canal, which is an historic canal along the Intracoastal Waterway. The Fish and Wildlife Service has constructed a viewing platform on one side of the canal because of the high likelihood of sighting manatees in the canal. Even though the water was a little cool for them, we were fortunate to watch a manatee surface multiple times just north of the viewing platform and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the other side of the canal sitting along the bank.