Brevard Hikers Explore Hidden Wilderness Treasures

By  //  July 27, 2012

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Unsurpassed Scenic Outdoor Activity

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA –If you mention outdoor activities in Central Florida, the  beaches, theme parks and shopping centers might come to mind rather than any wild areas.

A Space Coast Hiking Club outing takes hikers across a stretch of palmettos that's common in a lot of the popular hiking areas around here. Such stretches normally alternate with swings through pine, palm or hardwood forest to give variety to the scenery. (Image courtesy Space Coast Hiking Club)

However, those who do get out and away from their concrete environment are well-aware of the wealth of wild beauty that’s out there to be explored because they know where to look.

And if you carry the idea that the scenery around these mostly flat lands would be too monotonous to be interesting, well, you just need to get out there.

Nobody knows that better than Mick Karolick, who serves as trails coordinator for the Space Coast Hiking Club.

“You just never know what you’re going to see out there,” Karolick said, “There’s an amazing variety of ecosystems, with oak hammocks, palm hammocks, pine flatlands, prairies, cypress domes. And in places like Prairie Lakes (his favorite area hiking destination), where there’s low-impact hunting (only),   you see lots of deer, turkey, pigs, bald eagles and everything else.”

The Lower Wekiva River Preserve is well-known among hikers for its stunning array of wildflowers in the fall. (Image courtesy Space Coast Hiking Club)

Diverse terrain

Melbourne’s Cindy Broomfield doesn’t claim to know much about ecosystems or why some places may have more wildlife than others.

But after a hike in the Bull Creek area off U.S. 192 west of West Melbourne, her impression was that she was constantly walking from “swamp to desert to swamp to ranchland.”

“It was unreal,” she said. “I started in this incredible stretch of palms that was like a movie-set oasis where everything was lush and green. And then I stepped out into the bright daylight and thought I had to cross a desert because it looked like nothing but sand and low palmettos all the way to the horizon.

“Only, in an hour or so I’d come up to a stretch of dark swamp, only with hardwood trees instead of palms.”

Broomfield is among a surprising number of outdoor enthusiasts who don’t let the summer heat keep them from enjoying their getaways.

“It was unreal. I started in this incredible stretch of palms that was like a movie-set oasis where everything was lush and green. And then I stepped out into the bright daylight and thought I had to cross a desert because it looked like nothing but sand and low palmettos all the way to the horizon.” Cindy Broomfield of Melbourne

Among her tricks for avoiding the heat is to carry her own shade around in the form of a big umbrella.

“I’m sure I’m quite a sight out there, traipsing along in the sand with this big dome over my head, like I’m in a Fellini movie or something,” she said. “But it works for me.”

Broomfield said she does most of her hiking   when the heat loosens its grip just a bit early and late in the day. “But not too early or late, because that’s when the bugs party down,” she said. “If I’m camping, I’ll make sure I set up my tent an hour before sunset so I can be in there before the mosquitoes come out for dinner.”

Karolick doesn’t care too much about feeding the mosquitoes, either, but he loves almost every other form of wildlife he encounters in Central Florida’s many wild stretches.

Central Florida's wild areas hold innumerable lakes that offer a variety of wildlife viewing chances, as well as photographic opportunities. (Image courtesy Space Coast Hiking Club)

Favorite locations

He called Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Area (WMA), about an hour’s drive southwest of Melbourne, his favorite hiking area both for its scenery and its increased chances of seeing the critters that live out there.

“I’d say it’s about the prettiest place around here,” he said. “And it’s just so relaxing to get out there.”

Relaxing, yes. but Karolick also appreciates those moments when he witnesses wildlife involved in its own living drama.

“One day, we were just watching an osprey get a fish, and he’s looking just as happy as he can be, when a bald eagle swoops in and scares the osprey so badly, it drops the fish,” he said. “I don’t know how he timed it, but that eagle scooped back around and snatched that fish before it hit the ground. You know he’s probably done that before, but we were just  in awe. You see things like that out there, and you just  can’t believe it.”

“It’s just so relaxing to get out there.” Space Coast Hiking Club trails coordinator Mike Karolick

Karolick probably gets to observe more wildlife than most, as he often serves as a guide on hiking club outings, which are offered for all comers throughout the year. And club members know there are a lot of places to go.

At the most recent Space Coast Hiking Club meeting at the Melbourne Library, when members were asked their favorite places to hike, the answers came out fast.

Among their favorite spots were:

• Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Area WMA, about an hour’s drive southwest of Melbourne.

• Tosohatchee WMA, about 15 minutes northwest of Cocoa.

• Turkey Creek Preserve in Palm Bay.

• Bull Creek WMA, about 15 minutes west of West Melbourne.

• Triple N Ranch WMA, just west of Bull Creek.

• Hammock Trail, just north of Sebastian Inlet.

• Sebastian River Preserve, the largest area for hiking   in Brevard and Indian River counties, centered by its main office three miles north of Fellsmere.

• Lower Wekiva River State Park just northwest of Orlando, about an hour west of Titusville.

A bounty of undiscovered sights await hikers in and around Brevard County. (Image courtesy Florida Trail Association)

Plan ahead

Some daily entrance fees apply. And from September to April, hikers should make themselves familiar with hunting schedules, available at www.myfwc.com.

Actually, the best way for less experienced hikers to get to know the area and the different rules that apply is to join one of the Space Coast Hiking Club’s outings.

The club offers a wealth of guided outings throughout the year, listed online at www.meetup.com/spacecoasthiking/.

The group’s next outing is a “leisure hike” of 4-5 miles in the heavily wooded (read: shady) Tosohatchee Forest on July 29.

A good way to get to know the best hiking spots and contribute to the trails’ upkeep is to join one of the group’s trail maintenance hikes. The next one goes to Three Lakes WMA (which includes the Prairie Lakes area) on Aug. 4.

The 1,100-mile Florida Trail passes through many of these hiking areas, and its association’s Indian River chapter includes many of the Space Coast Hiking Club’s members. Its website is www.floridatrail.org.

Information on each of the area’s hiking areas can be found online, and one  hiker’s website, www.outintheboonies.com, is highly recommended by local hikers for its wealth of information.

With so many places to get away from it all, it might be surprising to learn that one of Brevard County’s most noted hikers, Titusville’s David “Awol” Miller, said his favorite local place to hike is actually right there on one of our famous beaches.

Miller first complained that he hasn’t been able to get out and hike much lately because work on his books: “Awol on the Appalachian Trail” and “The A.T. Guidebook,” (otherwise known among A.T. hikers as “The Awol”) has been keeping him indoors. But then he added, “I love to go up there to Playalinda Beach,” the southern end of 14 miles of pristine oceanfront that await the hiker in Cape Canaveral National Seashore.

When asked what makes that hike special, Miller could only manage to say, “It’s pristine. Isolated…” before his voice trailed away while he looked wistfully out his kitchen window.

For more information about the Space Coast Hiking Club, visit http://www.meetup.com/SpaceCoastHiking/

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