Merritt Island – More than NASA - Orlando / Florida Guide
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The area from New Smyrna Beach down to just south of Vero Beach is known now as ‘The Space Coast’ due to the domination of the incredible Kennedy Space Centre. It is to the east coast of Florida what mouse ears are to Orlando. So much so that even the area code for the phone is 321! !
However, there is much more to the area than just the Space Centre. While NASA owns over 46, 000 acres of Merritt Island it only uses about five per cent for space related activities and in 1963 turned over the northern third of the island to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to manage as wildlife preserve. Approximately one half of this area is brackish estuaries and marshes, while the remaining land is made up of coastal dunes, pine forests and palm and oak hammocks.
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is now regarded as one of the most important in America as its mangroves and marshes are now home to more threatened and endangered species than any other wildlife refuge in the USA. The Canaveral Seashore is located on (or perhaps ‘under’) the Atlantic Flyway, the corridor along which migrating birds travel between North and South America, and is a must for any bird enthusiast.
Perhaps the best time to visit is between September and May, which is the main migration season and is also the most comfortable climate wise. However, even during the March to September period there are thousands of wading birds throughout the refuge displaying their breeding plumage.
At the southern tip of the refuge lies Mosquito Lagoon. But don’t be put off by the name! This is a beautiful area where you can take a canoe through the mangroves to one of the hundreds of deserted islands and perhaps have a secluded picnic, feeling totally alone apart from possibly a manatee or dolphin swimming by.
Within the wildlife refuge is also Black Point Wildlife Drive, a six-mile loop which is one of the areas most popular and easily accessible attractions. There is also the Boardwalk Trail, a quarter mile nature trail which can be accessed from the visitor centre. In addition there are half mile, two mile and five mile walks for the more adventurous! Maps to assist you on your self-guided tour are available at the visitor centre.
The visitors’ centre is located about five miles east of US1 in Titusville on State Road 402 and can be accessed by leaving the I-95 at exit 80.
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