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Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Other Florida

A drive to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge will give the visitor a taste of what Florida was like before any development took place. The area became protected due partly to the great abundance and divergence of birds and animals that have made it their home, and partly to prevent any encroachment on the adjacent land which houses the Kennedy Space Center.

The refuge occupies some 220 sq miles of marshland and is home to around 300 species of birds and many other forms of wildlife. Established in 1963 by NASA, the Refuge employs 27 staff and is visited by some 500, 000 people per year (excluding those who visit the NASA Space Center). Approximately fifty per cent of the wildlife refuge is brackish marshes and saltwater estuaries, while the remaining 70, 000 acres is pine forests, costal dunes and flatwoods.

One of the best ways to view the birds and wildlife is to take a leisurely drive (25 mph is recommended) along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Along this 7-mile, one-way loop, road you will be able to view many of the animals found in the vast marshes and impoundments of the refuge. A self-guiding brochure is available at the entrance to the drive and provides information on things to look out for including wading birds, raptors, bobcats and river otters. The drive has several designated stopping points with information at each one. The first of these is the Bald Eagle habitat where you can use the ‘Nest Finder’ to help you locate nets and hopefully spot some of these rare birds. At stop five you will be able to see hundreds of wading birds feeding in the mudflats, whilst stop eight marks the beginning of the Cruickshank Trail. Here you will have the opportunity to walk the 5-mile trail, which will enable you to get close to the marshes, an observation platform and a photography blind. The best times of day for viewing wild life is early in the morning (one or two hours after sunrise) or late afternoon / evening (one or two hours before sunset).

To see manatees the best place to visit is the specially designed viewing platform located on the northeast side of Haulover Canal. From this spot up to 60 manatees have been seen and there are panels providing information about this endangered species.

To reach Merritt Island take the Bee Line (or Beach Line as it has become known) (SR528) east from Orlando to the SR407; follow the signs for Kennedy Space Center, then at US1 turn left through Titusville. At SR406 turn right and cross the Indian River and continue until the entrance to the Wildlife Drive is seen on the left hand side.

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