Sunday, September 13, 2009

Barrier Island Center Field Trip

The Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center (Barrier Island Center) is an educational center located in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a major nesting site for sea turtles.

How this Center came to be a reality is a story of cooperation between agencies and organizations - the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL), the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), and the Richard K. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation donated the 34-acre parcel to Brevard County, the EEL Program developed and now manages the Center, and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation has partnered with the EEL Program to conduct the educational programs offered at the Center.

The Center opened May 10, 2008. It offers visitors a variety of sea turtle related exhibits and educational activities, including guided hikes throughout the year and turtle walks in June and July. The artwork for the exhibits in the Center was created by Melbourne Beach graphic design artist and scientific illustrator Dawn Witherington and is simply stunning in its beauty and detail. (Blair and Dawn's book, Florida's Living Beaches, is a must-have for any Florida beachcomber.) There's a slide show in the right-hand column that will give you an idea of just how interesting and unusual this place is.

The Center is chock full of talented staff. EEL South Beach Region Program Manager Ray Mojica is a computer whiz, and it shows in the wonderful interactive displays that entertain as well as instruct. Leslie Sprague from the CCC and her volunteers have created a gift shop that is a treat in itself (keep it in mind for Christmas gifts - it features the work of many local artists). The Center offers programs and classes ranging from how to construct a rain barrel to making oyster mats to helping put a roof on the Coconut Point Sanctuary Trail kiosk. Donna Lee Crawford is the Sanctuary Steward, and amongst many other things, she arranges for the Center's special events each month and send out a flyer on them (she also creates the most elegant plant arrangements out of natural materials). Nichole writes an excellent quarterly newsletter. Be sure to sign up to receive the monthly flyer and the newsletter (see Reference Links below or call Donna Lee at 321-723-3556). Grace runs the children's activity center, and the recent summer camp is already legendary! So much good stuff in one tidy building!

Outside, on the south side of the Center, a beautiful boardwalk down to the beach goes through lush native vegetation. On the north side of the Center, a hiking trail begins at the Center and continues across A1A.
This is a wonderful educational resource - if you have children, grandchildren, or visitors, be sure to take them to the Barrier Island Center.

Barrier Island Center
Just The Facts

"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: South Brevard, Barrier Island

WHEN TO GO: The Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

HOW TO GET THERE: The Center is located on Hwy A1A, 14 miles south of the Melbourne Causeway (also known as 192), and 3 miles north of Sebastian Inlet State Park. There's not much down that direction, so keep a sharp eye out for this building on the east side of the road.

BRING MONEY? The Center is free, but I'm sure you'll want to purchase something in the gift shop!

WHERE TO PARK: There's a nice parking lot, but a word of warning. The gate to the parking lot is locked at 5:00, and if you leave your car in there while you're at the beach or riding around with somebody else, your car will be locked in. I know this to be true. :)

WHAT TO DO: There are numerous exhibits, a beautiful little theater with sea-turtle related shows running constantly, a deck overlooking the ocean, a boardwalk leading down to the beach, and a hiking trail. This photo shows a group hiking Barrier Island Ecosystem Center Trail on the west side of A1A.

For more information, or to sign up for turtle walks in June or July, call 321-723-3556.

WHAT TO WEAR: The Center is air conditioned and pleasant, but if you're going to walk down to the beach or hike through the trail, you'll want the usual water, hat, and bug repellant.

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: The Center, the outside deck, and the boardwalk to the beach are fully handicapped accessible. The hiking trail is not. Check out the restrooms in the Center - even the tiles on the wall follow the ocean theme!

WHERE TO EAT AFTERWARDS: About 1 1/2 miles to the south of the Center is Longpoint Cafe. The food is excellent - it's cooked from scratch, so it takes a while. I like their chicken fingers, but the Cuban sandwich is excellent and comes with an unusual dipping sauce. The staff is genuinely friendly. I think it is only open for breakfast and lunch, so if you plan to eat dinner, you'll want to head north 8.5 miles instead, and stop at the Surfin' Turtle in the Publix shopping center or Rosati's Pizza, 3 miles past the blinking light at Floridana Beach.

HOW TO HELP: If you are local, volunteer to work in the Center or on beach cleanup days. Support the EEL Program.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Port Canaveral Field Trip, Part Two

Since I moved here in the 60's, Port Canaveral has grown from a couple of oil storage tanks to a bustling hub of commercial and industrial activity. I didn't keep up with its growth, so my previous post about Canaveral Lock and Avocet Lagoon was a little light on things to do and places to eat. Friends Kirby and Bev Collins live in Cape Canaveral and produce a very successful destination web site, Places Around Florida (see Reference Links below). They readily agreed to play "tour guides" on another field trip to Port Canaveral, so one hot day a couple of weeks ago, off we went. (This overall aerial view of Port Canaveral looking east is used with permission of the Canaveral Port Authority.)

A little background. Port Canaveral is the major deepwater point of entry for Central Florida. It was originally constructed in the early 1950's for military and commercial purposes. (The photo below, again from the Canaveral Port Authority, shows the Port in 1953. )

By the 1960's, cargo tonnage moving through the Port had reached one million tons a year, and the Port became an important player in the space program. In the 1980's, the Port opened its first cruise terminal , and today it is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world.

Port Canaveral is an interesting mix of military (a submarine wharf and a Trident turning basin), industrial (cargo terminals and storage, fuel storage tanks), commercial (The Cove with its restaurants and retail shops, a commercial park, marinas), and recreation (parks, campgrounds, cruise ships), as well as the infrastructure needed to support all of this (Canaveral Port Authority offices, fire station, Customs and Border Patrol). I look at that sentence and think it should be shortened, but then again, it describes the Port - busy busy busy, with lots of parenthetical stuff going on! (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Our first stop was Jetty Park. You'll pay $7 a car to get in, or you can purchase a yearly pass. There is a 1,200 foot fishing pier, a beach, and campgrounds, with camping fees ranging from $25 to $47 per night. There's a very nice Visitor Center by the beach/fishing pier, and my understanding is that the hamburgers at the snack bar are excellent! The fishing pier is a masterpiece, set amongst huge rocks and jutting out into the ocean. The beach is visible from the pier, and there are lifeguards 365 days a year. As you're walking along the pier, you're likely to see juvenile green sea turtles swimming in the water below, and it's a great place to see shore birds and manatees.

The Visitor's Center includes a lovely shaded deck, a rooftop deck, a bait and tackle shop, and the aforementioned snack bar with friendly, informative employees that are rightfully proud of their Center. We did a drive-by of the campground - a good layout, with trees and lush landscaping.

If you plan to visit Jetty Park, be sure to visit the Jetty Park link shown below in Reference Links - it's an "unofficial" site for the Park, written by somebody that knows and loves it. It's an excellent source of information.

Kirby and Bev had not been to Canaveral Lock, so we ventured there before heading for lunch. As luck would have it, the Lock opened to let a pleasure craft through soon after we arrived, so we got to see it in action. We talked with James, the Lock operator (I'm guessing at his title, but he makes the thing work!) and Tim from the Army Corps of Engineers and learned more about Lock activity and operations. Kirby wanted to talk mostly about the big fish swimming around the Lock mechanism - fishing is not allowed, except by the birds, but Kirby got several good photos so he can dream! (Photo by Kirby Collins)

Most of the Port's restaurants are located in an area referred to as The Cove. Kirby and Bev suggested Grills Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar for lunch. A brief rain had cooled things off a little, so we sat outside and were promptly served by a charming young man named Chad. Kirby and Bev eat at Grills often, so they knew what they wanted to order. Chad urged me to try the fresh tuna sandwich, medium rare. Understand that I don't do sushi, and my idea of fish is pan-fried South Dakota rainbow trout in July. However, in the true field trip spirit of adventure, I had the medium rare tuna, and it was quite tasty, so Chad was off the hook for his "old dog/new tricks" comment. Good company, good food, good service, sitting on a deck overlooking boats and birds and water - what else could one ask for!

Kirby was kind enough to share his photos, so I have combined them with mine for a slideshow in the right-hand column of this blog. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Port Canaveral - there is much to do and see, and you can be as busy or as relaxed as you choose. Good fun.
Just the Facts
Port Canaveral
"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: Beachside, Central Brevard, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach

WHEN TO GO: There's something going on at the Port all the time, so when you go will depend on what you want to do there.

HOW TO GET THERE: The Port Canaveral web site provides a variety of directions. We took A1A north through Cape Canaveral and turned onto North Atlantic Avenue at the big curve. Follow North Atlantic Avenue to the Port. At George King Boulevard, turn right to get to Jetty Park.

WHERE TO PARK: There is a big parking lot by the Visitor Center. If you're going to one of the restaurants, there are a variety of parking lots available and well-marked.

WHAT TO WEAR: Again, that depends on what you're going to be doing, but don't forget sunscreen, a hat if you're going to be on the pier long, and water. And a reader noted that I should have included insect repellent in this list - he is absolutely right. If there's a good breeze and you're right on the beach, you won't see many mosquitoes, but this is Florida - bring some along! And now that I think about it, we have never even mentioned the "no-seeum's" - a topic for another day.

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: The beach and pier are handicap-accessible, as is the Visitor Center. There are bathrooms at the Visitor Center (outside on the back deck).

HOW LONG TO STAY: Stay as long as you're having fun - there's lots to do.

WHAT TO DO: All sorts of beach activities, fish, go boating, camp, visit the shops and restaurants, watch the cruise ships, picnic, go out on a fishing boat or a gambling boat, look for manatees and dolphins, visit the Lock - I know I've forgotten something!

BRING MONEY? Yes - it will cost $7 per car to get into Jetty Park. As you can see from this photo of the menu board, the prices at the Visitor Center Snack Bar are very reasonable, and it seemed to me that the prices at Grills were certainly in line for that type of restaurant.

WHERE TO EAT: Visitor Center Snack Bar, or one of the many restaurants in The Cove. There's also a little deli on the way to the Lock.

HOW TO HELP: Follow the rules.

My previous post about Canaveral Lock and Avocet Lagoon
Kirby Collins
Places Around Florida
Port Canaveral (official site with an enormous amount of information - lots of maps)
Jetty Park (an unofficial site with great information about recreation)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Canaveral National Seashore and Playalinda Beach Field Trip

When you want to go to the beach in Brevard County, it's easy - if you are on Highway A1A, you're there. Look for a beachside park (we have lots of very nice, well-maintained ones) and pull into the parking lot. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

However, north of Cape Canaveral, and not accessible from A1A, is Playalinda, a beautiful beach that is a little harder to get to, but well worth the effort. Playalinda is located at the southern tip of the Canaveral National Seashore, a national park near the Kennedy Space Center. The Just the Facts section below gives detailed directions on how to get there.

Playalinda means "pretty beach" in Spanish. (We don't use the Spanish pronunciation of ply- . We call it play- with a long a.) As you're driving there, be prepared for stunning landscape and sparkling water, with the space shuttle launch pad as a backdrop. Drive slowly, and keep your eye out for the birds and critters that call this area home. There are plenty of “photo op” pullovers along the way. Canaveral National Seashore is an important nesting area for sea turtles and home to 13 federally-listed threatened and endangered animal species.

The road at Playalinda runs for four miles along the beach, and there are thirteen parking lots. Each lot has restroom facilities.

As you can tell by the length of this dune crossover, these are some big dunes. As you walk up the crossover, take a moment to admire the lush vegetation. About 2 miles in on the 4 mile beach road, between Parking Lots 7 and 8, you’ll see a sign for Eddy Creek (pronounced E-dee for some reason). There’s a parking area, fishing pier, and boat launch on one side of the road, and the covered Eddy Creek pavilion on the other side. The Pavilion's dune crossover and deck are wheelchair accessible.

Be warned that the beach area at the far end of the four-mile road has evolved through the years into a nude beach, in spite of local laws prohibiting nudity. But rest assured, there is plenty of room at Playalinda, so the nude beach thing is not a big problem.

You'll travel through Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on your way to and fron Playalinda. After you leave Playalinda Beach, you’ll see signs for many other Florida things to see on your way back to US#1, including this sign to Scrub Ridge Trail. Friends Wayne and Julie hiked this trail the other day, and Wayne has provided his usual excellent "trip report" and photos that will be the topic of our next post.

I love this beach - when Margie and I last went there, it was nearly deserted (my idea of a perfect beach), but now that it is summer, I hear the parking lots are getting full. So you may have to share your stretch of sand with somebody, but that's part of the fun, too.

Playalinda Beach
Just the Facts

"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: North Brevard, Barrier Island, Titusville

WHEN TO GO: March 11 - October 28, 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., October 29-March 10, 6:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., 365 days a year, EXCEPT: Because Playalinda Beach is so close to Kennedy Space Center, it is closed for three days prior to shuttle launches and on the day of a shuttle landing. If it's close to a launch or landing, call 321-867-0677 to verify the beach is open before you go.

HOW TO GET THERE: For starters, you need to be at US #1 and County Road 402 (Garden Street) in the north end of Titusville. Don’t look at a map and think you can take a shortcut through the Kennedy Space Center, because that road is not open to the public. Take a right and head east. After about 7 miles, you’ll come to a stoplight that is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Keep going straight across the railroad tracks and drive about 4 more miles until you reach Canaveral National Seashore. Watch out for the critters crossing the road. (Map courtesy of Space Coast Office of Tourism)

This is important. There are no stores and no gas stations after you leave Titusville. Be sure your car is gassed up and bring plenty of drinking water. You might want to bring a lunch to enjoy eating at the Eddy Creek pavilion.

BRING MONEY? Yes, there is a $3 per person charge (children under the age of 16 are admitted free) to get into Canaveral National Seashore (unless you have a National Parks pass). You can also purchase an annual pass to Canaveral National Seashore for $35. The National Park Service is offering free admission to park-goers the weekends of July 18-19 and August 15-16.

WHERE TO PARK: There are 13 parking lots along the four-mile road.

WHAT TO WEAR: Remember that the sun bouncing off the water will burn you to a crisp, so protect yourself with sunscreen, beach umbrellas, hats, and common sense. Drink lots of water. And as a reader noted in his comment - bring insect repellent!

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: There are bathrooms at each parking lot (no running water, though). The boardwalk at Eddie Creek Pavilion is wheelchair accessible.

HOW LONG TO STAY: As long as you're having fun (within the constraints of the Park hours)!

WHAT TO DO: Fish, surf, swim in the ocean, relax. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. You can launch a boat at Eddy Creek. If you fish from your boat, you need to have a fishing license. If you are fishing from the shore or a dock, you do not need a salt water fishing license.

WHERE TO EAT AFTERWARDS: I'm always torn between Dixie Crossroads and El Leoncito. Dixie Crossroads is an iconic restaurant co-owned by long-time Brevard environmentalist guru Laurilee Thompson (we quote her in the I Think box) with terrific seafood, corn fritters that melt in your mouth, and exterior wall murals by our favorite mural artist, Frank Rao. When you get back to US#1 and State Road 402 (Garden Street), keep going west on Garden Street for about a mile. Dixie Crossroads is on the left-hand (south) side of Garden Street.

El Leoncito is in the southern end of Titusville on US#1 near Highway 50 and features excellent Cuban and Mexican food (I'm partial to their Cuban sandwich and black beans). You won't go wrong at either place.

HOW TO HELP: Follow Margie's example and pick up a bag of trash on your way back to the parking lot. There are recycle and trash bins near the restrooms. Pets are not allowed on the beach, and must be on a leash elsewhere. Don't feed the wildlife. And of course, don't litter.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) Field Trip

On May 1, friend Wayne ventured out of Brevard County to visit the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), a 365-acre preserve along the Indian River Lagoon in Indian River County, on the south side of Vero Beach, a short distance east of US #1. OSLO is owned by the St. Johns Water Management District and Indian River County and managed by the County. Indian River County is the next county south of Brevard. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Wayne filed the following trip report and provided his excellent photos for a slideshow (see right-hand column).
This was my first visit. I got a late start, so it quickly got too hot for me to do all the trails (note this was May 1). The trail map at the entrance kiosk showed a destination called "Awesome Tree, the largest Slash Pine in the world." That was something I wanted to see, so I headed there first. The trail goes through a very jungley hammock. It's almost all at ground level, but with several short elevated boardwalks. The trails being at ground level makes it easy to observe and photograph wildflowers and other plants. However, that also means the trails are wet and muddy in some places during rainy times.
The dense woods looked like a good place for birding, but I did not see or hear any birds. I think it was too late in the day and too hot.

Near the trailhead were several patches of brilliant red salvia. I found a small tree there (shown in the photo) that I did not recognize. It had droopy branches and leaves and panicles of white flowers. The flowers were unusual because they had six petals. Usually six petals means the plant is a member of the lily or orchid family. Later, using a plant species list for ORCA, I identified the tree as Lancewood, a small tree found along the coast in south Florida, the Keys, and the Caribbean.

I first headed to the Awesome Tree. At several junctions along the trail, there were signs pointing the way to the Awesome Tree, as well as to other locations. The anticipation built with each sign. I finally arrived at a small clearing with a sign indicating that this was the site of the Awesome Tree. I had expected a huge, standing, living tree, the one pictured on the left. Instead, what I found was a huge, lying down and very dead tree! Apparently the big tree was knocked down by a hurricane several years ago. In researching it later, I found a book, "Birding Florida," written by Brian Rapoza and published in 2007, that claims the big tree was felled by a recent hurricane. From the state of decay, it looked like the tree had been dead for at least 10 years.
(The "then" photo below is from the Indian River County web site listed below in Reference Links.)

Awesome pine then and now
From there, I doubled back and took the trail to the Coastal Wetlands, passing through the lower end of the Pine Flatwoods. This trail near its end went through all three types of mangroves - white, black, and red - ending at an observation platform overlooking a nearly dry pond adjacent to the Indian River Lagoon.

For those interested in a good hike through varied habitats, I recommend you visit ORCA, where you can see a coastal hammock, pine flatwoods, and coastal wetlands all in one trip. I like the closed-in jungly feeling of the trails. It appears to be a good woods for birds, early in the morning and is probably good for migrating warblers in spring and late autumn. (Editor's Note: Wayne is a tireless researcher with an interest in plants - he has provided some excellent sources of information in the Reference Links section below for those who want to do more research. There are several web sites devoted to ORCA.)

Wayne adds that the Florida Medical Entomology Lab (FMEL) is further east on Oslo Rd. Their web site has lots of interesting information of mosquitoes, including a small video of a mosquito hatching and a game called SWAT. (See Reference Links below. )

As always, we are indebted to Wayne for sharing his prodigious knowledge, his adventures, and his photos with us. Be sure to watch the slide show - it's a great education on vegetation.

Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA)
Just the Facts
"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: Indian River County, Mainland, south (Indian River County adjoins the southern border of Brevard County)

WHEN TO GO: Public access facilities and trails are open sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year
HOW TO GET THERE: ORCA is located on the north side of Oslo Road (9th Street SE), east of US #1, on the south side of Vero Beach. The entrance is located immediately behind the South Vero Plaza, which is immediately south of the Vista Royale Golf and Country Club. (Click on map to enlarge.)

WHERE TO PARK: Signs will direct you to a small parking lot.

WHAT TO WEAR: This is Florida - bring water! Wear a hat and sturdy walking shoes, bring mosquito repellant, and protect against mosquitoes by wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. (I suspect they've located the mosquito research facility there for a reason - plenty of research opportunities!)

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: There are no restrooms, and it is not wheelchair accessible.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Wayne spent about an hour on his walk - he says he rushed a little because it was hot and he was ready for lunch.

WHAT TO DO: Facililties include boardwalks, an observation tower, a canoe launch, educational information, and hiking trails, so you can fish, hike, canoe, look for wildlife, and study the numerous types of vegetation in the varied habitats. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails. A boat luanch is located at the end of Oslo Road. Weekly nature walks are provided free by volunteer naturalists. Call 772-778-7200 for more information.

WHERE TO EAT AFTERWARDS: Wayne recommends TooJays, a New York-style deli. The first TooJay's was near Palm Beach, and now they have 27 locations. It was started by two fellows named Jay - I'm not sure why it was named TooJay's instead of TwoJay's. In any event, head north on US#1 to 20th Street, then turn east. TooJay's is on the south side of 21st street in the Treasure Coast Plaza. Vero roads are a little confusing, so keep a sharp eye out! map

HOW TO HELP: If you live nearby, volunteer (see the ORCA web site for information on volunteer classes). Be respectful of wildlife and nature, and don't litter.

ORCA web site
ORCA Recreation Guide
Indian River County ORCA web site
Florida Medical Entomology Lab (This is the mosquito web site with the SWAT game)
FMEL's ORCA web site (This site includes plants, snakes, and birds species lists, and Wayne notes that the plant species list is very comprehensive.)
Lancewood Tree

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Geocaching Field Trip

My experience with GPS dates back to a work-related stay in Miami 10 years ago. I rented a car with built-in navigation. It was like driving with your mother-in-law in the passenger seat saying TURN HERE! TURN HERE! After a first short trip, I turned the thing off and never turned it back on.

So when I decided that a geocache field trip would be fun and educational, the "educational" part was high on my list. Tom Choma agreed to meet me at Wickham Park, make me smarter, and walk me through a search for a cache. He provided me with some preliminary information and directions to our meeting place in latitude and longitude (!) - thank goodness for Google Earth!

First, some definitions and history. is the central geocaching web site, and it states: Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. The first geocache was recorded in 2000, and according to, as of today, there are 818,326 active geocaches around the world - that's some growth rate! It is, by the way, referred to as a sport.

Before I met up with Tom, I went to the library to pick up a couple of books. I got a "dummies" book, but the one that was the greatest help was a Boy's Life book for Boy Scouts - Let's Go Geocaching. What a great book, and you can buy it for only $3.99! It provided me with good basic information so that I didn't have to waste Tom's time on that.

Tom is an avid outdoorsman and geocacher and blogs about both (see the Links section). His first cache was in 2002, so he was one of the pioneers. He brought along the first cache he hid (the big one) and a more recent one, a waterproof, camouflaged box kind of like Tupperware. Notice the name of the camouflage tape - Duck Tape. :) Tom carries a long stick wrapped with tape at the end for poking in holes before he puts his hand in, and his geocaching equipment kit also includes an extendable mirror. (Click on photo to enlarge)

I learned that geocaching is not a casual sport - for starters, you need good computer skills and a hand-held GPS (and no, the one in your car won't work for geocaching). There are places where you must get a permit hide a cache (e.g., St. Johns Water Management District land, EELs property), and you cannot hide caches in national parks. As with most activities involving more than one person, there are rules, politics, and disagreements about how things should be. I get the sense that if you like it, it can be addictive.

So here's the drill, as I understand it. Someone hides a cache. At a minimum, it includes a log book and a pen. The cacher then creates an entry on the site and submits it for review. A local volunteer organization reviews the entry in terms of permitting, etc., and then approves it for publication. If you want to search for a cache, you go onto the web site and find one that appeals to you. There are clues, GPS coordinates, etc. - follow the link below to see more. When you find the cache, you sign the log book and trade items (leave something of equal or greater value) if the cache supports trades. When you get home, you record your find on the site.

After Tom and I talked for a while about the sport in general, we went through the process of hiding a cache and then finding it. So far so good. I learned that GPS accuracy can be off by as much as 12 feet, so it's not like shooting fish in a barrel. Then we went in search of a nearby cache that Tom figured I might have a chance of finding. He had already downloaded the appropriate coordinates, so with his GPS in my hands, and with my eyes firmly glued to its red arrow, off we went. I got close and eventually "found" it, but when I noted that "even a blind pig finds an acorn in the forest every once in a while", his rejoinder was "only if there's a smart pig helping." You can see in the photo how small this thing was - a little GI Joe ammo box in a film canister, hanging in a tree. Good grief! We of course replaced the cache carefully and surreptitiously so that nobody would "muggle" it (a Harry Potter term used to describe non-cachers who stumble across a cache and take or destroy it).

When I started this whole adventure, I had hopes that geocaching was a "gentleman's sport" that would get folks out-of-doors and enjoying nature. The Boy Scout book encouraged that belief, with its emphasis on respect for nature, no littering, and cache in/trash out approach. Indeed, states: Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment. I have to tell you that as I was walking across Wickham Park watching that red arrow swing back and forth, I could have stepped on an ivory billed woodpecker and never noticed it. And there are some that are less than environmentally conscious in their search, digging and ripping. On the other hand, it would seem to be a good family sport that would involve a lot of learning opportunities for kids and adults alike.

I can't begin to completely describe everything about geocaching in this post. I have suggested to the Library that it would be a good summer program - if that comes about, I'll let you know. If you're lucky, you'll have a friend that will show you the ropes before you invest in equipment. If you become a geocacher, please be one that includes a little nature appreciation in with the sport and adheres to the cache in/trash out philosophy.

I'm not a big GPS user, but the GeoCarta blog I follow spoke today of a GPS application that I think is pretty cool - a GPS key ring. When you get out of your car in a big parking lot, you mark the spot on the key ring unit. Then when you are done shopping, voila - it will get you back to your car! There's a link below. Pretty clever little device. (Tom wanted me to stress that this is not a GPS unit that you could use in geocaching - its application is limited strictly to getting you back to a location.)

My thanks to Tom for patiently answering my incessant questions and for sharing his skills.

P.S. Wayne and Julie's daughter is a Scout leader and has implemented geocaching as part of her troop leadership. She sent a link to the story that got her interested in the sport, and I've added that to the Links below. Her family also geocaches, and they incorporate it into their vacations.

Let's Go Geocaching
Tom's Blog
GPS Keyring
Tracking Trinkets and Treasures

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Palm Bay and Malabar Bike Ride Field Trip

In the previous post about the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary field trip, I mentioned there was a network of bike trails connecting the Sanctuary and Malabar Road with Turkey Creek Sanctuary on Port Malabar Boulevard. Friend Wayne got busy, researched the route, learned of more Palm Bay bike trails, took a "recon" trip over the route, and then led his biking group on a 10-1/2 Parks bike ride. AND he wrote up a report AND provided photos, for which I am everlastingly grateful, particularly since I don't ride a bicycle. (I'm also grateful to the bikers for letting Wayne take their picture at every park - good sports, all! Take a look at how trim and fit these guys are. They bicycle three times a week, about 20 miles round trip. As you'll see from the photos in the slideshow, they are indeed a testament to the benefits of bicycle riding.)

The Friends of Turkey Creek organization has done a wonderful job on a lot of things - signage, web site, maps - if you live in the area, give some thought to volunteering with them.

Meanwhile, I met with Barbara Meyer, Brevard County Bicycle Pedestrian & Trails Coordinator for the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), who provided me with a wealth of information about Brevard's current and planned bike trails. There will be more on that later, but first, here's Wayne's report:

On Thursday, May 28, I led seven members of our beachside cycling group on a tour of 10-1/2 parks in the Malabar/Palm Bay area. The Turkey Creek 7-Park Trail mapped out by the Friends of Turkey Creek formed the core of our bike ride. I added three more parks: Malabar Community Park, Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, and the Cameron Wilderness Preserve. The final stop on our tour was the Mountain Bike Trail area off Briar Creek Blvd, on the east side of Turkey Creek. I assumed that this area was part of the Turkey Creek Sanctuary, which had already been counted, so I counted this stop as only "half a park." The parks in sequence were: (Editor's note - be sure to view the slideshow in the right-hand column - click on it to bring up full screen size. Wayne annotated the photos by Park, in order. Gotta love an orderly mind!)

1. Malabar Community Park
2. Malabar Scrub Sanctuary
3. Cameron Wilderness Preserve
4. Turkey Creek Sanctuary
5. Knecht Park
6. Winding Lake Park
7. Ais Trail Park
8. Pollak Park
9. Stearns Point Park
10. Castaways Point Park
10.5. Mountain Bike Trail area east of Turkey Creek (on return ride)

We began at 7:30 a.m. in the Malabar Community Park parking lot, adjacent to the entrance to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. We took the concrete road through Malabar Scrub to the north end, which terminates on the Boundary Canal Trail. Going west on the Canal Trail, we passed by Cameron Wilderness Preserve, which we did not enter because the trail was too sandy for our hybrid bikes. From there we rode west on Port Malabar Blvd to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, where we paused for a group photo by the sanctuary sign. From there on, we followed the Turkey Creek 7-Park Trail route, including a brief pause at the historic St. Joseph Catholic Church, and ending at Castaways Point Park.

After Castaways Point Park, we headed a short distance north along US 1 and crossed over to Orange Blossom Trail and Hessy Ave, which brought us back to Lichty St and then through Winding Lake Park to Glenham Dr. From there we rode north to the partially under- construction bike path on the south side of Palm Bay Rd to ChekMarc's restaurant, where we had a hearty breakfast.

After breakfast, we took Clearmont St south to a bike path that ends on Port Malabar Blvd. On the way back to the Boundary Canal Trail, we investigated the mountain bike trails on the west side of Briar Creek Blvd. The Friends of Turkey Creek recently installed a picnic pavilion there on a small bluff overlooking Turkey Creek. Finally, we rode the Boundary Canal Trail back to Malabar Scrub and our cars.

The bikers all enjoyed the tour. They even patiently posed for group photos at each park. Most of them did not know of the existence of these parks, so it was an educational experience for them, which was my intent.
Just the Facts
10-1/2 Parks Trail Bike Ride
"Big Picture" Location: South Brevard, Mainland, Palm Bay, Malabar

Distance: 15.5 miles roundtrip; 9 miles from start to Castaways Point Park

Time: About 3 hours including breakfast; 1-1/2 hours to Castaways Point Park (we stopped a lot).

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Equipment: Road or hybrid bikes are suitable since almost the entire trail is paved (with a couple of short stretches of gravel)

Other trail users: We met 3 bikers and two roller bladers, both on the Boundary Canal Trail; otherwise, we had the trail to ourselves.

Friends of Turkey Creek
Malabar and Palm Bay Area Trail Properties

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Malabar Scrub Sanctuary Field Trip

In 1990, Brevard County citizens approved a referendum for funding the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program, charged with acquiring environmentally sensitive land and making it available to the public through passive recreation and environmental education. One of the early properties acquired was the Malabar Scrub, and that's where I went for today's field trip.

My very able and knowledgeable guide was Brad Manley, the Public Use Coordinator for the EEL Program, shown here at the trailhead. It was a grey, rainy day, but just perfect for this hike - cool, and no mosquitoes, and the rain stopped as we started our walk.

This 395-acre Sanctuary houses a series of trails through diverse habitats - xeric (dry) hammock, scrub, scrubby flatwoods, pine flatwoods, sand pine scrub, ponds, sloughs, and depression marshes.

There's excellent signage as you walk along, the result of an Eagle Scout project. A boardwalk in a marshy area bore the "autograph" of the Ameri-Corp group that built it.

I took photos of some of the various plants and trees - wild blueberries, tar flower (sticky), gopher apple - but my favorite was the deer moss shown here. Brad shared a little botanist humor about it - deer moss is algae and fungus that have taken a lichen to each other. As Brad said, it's not hysterically funny, but you'll always remember what deer moss is! (Click on smaller pictures to enlarge.)

Prescribed burns play a large part in maintaining the scrub habitat favored by scrub jays - if the trees grow too tall or too dense, the jays will go elsewhere. Brad pointed out the sand pine - a small, shrubby, fast-growing tree whose seeds are contained in pine cones that are typically closed, but in a fire, the cones open and drop the seeds to the burnt ground, thus ensuring regrowth. Gotta love Mother Nature's plans.
The Malabar Scrub Sanctuary is a shining example of the EEL Program goals we mentioned at the beginning of this post - to preserve environmentally sensitive land and yet make it available to the public for education and recreation. What a jewel!

Malabar Scrub Sanctuary
Just the Facts
"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: South Brevard, Mainland, Malabar (south of Palm Bay)
WHEN TO GO: 365 days a year. October through April, 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. May through September, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Sanctuary entrance is at the intersection of Malabar Road and Malabar Woods Boulevard. From Babcock and Malabar Road, head east 2.2 miles. Or, from US #1 and Malabar Road, head west 1 mile. Or, from I-95 take Exit-173 Malabar Rd SR-514 and go east on Malabar Road about 3.1 miles. Look for the Fire Department and the Malabar Community Park sign. (Google map)

When you enter the road leading to the Sanctuary trailhead, you'll park next to the Malabar Community Park, owned by the Town of Malabar. It's a dandy park, with pavilions, a playground, tennis courts, restrooms, and plenty of parking.

WHERE TO PARK: There's plenty of available parking in a common lot shared by the Malabar Community Park and the Sanctuary.
WHAT TO WEAR: This depends on the season, but take precautions in the summer against mosquitoes, wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring water. Sturdy shoes are a must.
PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: There are restrooms at the Malabar Community Park, near the parking lot and trailhead. The trails are sugary sand, but since this is a planned development that never happened, there is pavement that runs through it - you can't drive on it, but it provides a stable walking environment, and it would certainly accommodate a wheelchair.
HOW LONG TO STAY: Stay as long as you want, remembering that currently there is no place to sit other than fallen trees. Brad and I strolled and talked for about an hour, but we did not walk all the trails. Remember also, the Malabar Community Park has picnic tables and pavilions, so you could always have a little picnic afterwards.
WHAT TO DO: You can bicycle, hike, or ride your horse. If you like to take photos of plants, this is a great place to do that. The numerous diverse habitats offer some really beautiful vegetation. There are critters that live there, and you might see a rabbit, scrub jay, woodpecker, gopher tortoise, or sandhill crane. We saw bobcat droppings (referred to as scat), but I would think the chances of your seeing a bobcat are slim to none! The Malabar Scrub Sanctuary is listed in the State of Florida Great Birding Trail, but if your primary interest is taking bird photographs, you'd be better off going to Viera Wetlands or Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

BRING MONEY? No, this is free.
WHERE TO EAT AFTERWARDS: Head west on Malabar Road. On the southwest corner of Malabar Road and Babcock is the Shady Oaks Shopping Center. The easiest way to get into this old center is to turn south on Babcock and take the second entrance. On the side of the center facing Babcock is Loreen's Country Cafe. Loreen has three such establishments, and I've eaten at one of them for many years. Great value for the dollar, wonderful waitresses that call you honey and give you a hard time if you don't clean your plate, and good old-fasioned food (I'm partial to the chili). Loreen's decor is "God Bless America" - lots of red, white, and blue and patriotic items. There's usually a collection jar at the register for some worthy cause. I love this place. (It won't matter if you're hot and sweaty after your hike - it's not fancy.)
HOW TO HELP: If you're a Brevard County voter, support the EEL Program funding. Become a volunteer. And of course, when you're in the Sanctuary, don't litter and don't annoy the critters.
A LITTLE EXTRA: The Boundary Canal Trail extends from Port Malabar Boulvard (not to be confused with Malabar Road) near Turkey Creek and ends at the north end of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. I'll be doing more posts on the Trail, Cameron Preserve that adjoins the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, and Turkey Creek. Just think - you could bike or walk for a long time without ever having to brave the Babcock Street traffic.