Ritch Grissom Wetlands Offers Wildlife, Scenic Views
By Michael Moore II // July 20, 2013
NATURE & THE ENVIRONMENT
ABOVE VIDEO: The Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetands are located a few short miles west of the traffic circle in Viera. There are many opportunities to see a wide variety of birds, mammals and reptiles at the sanctuary. (SCGTV199)
STORY & IMAGES BY MICHAEL MOORE II
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Living on the Space Coast it’s easy to take advantage of the fact we are surrounded by wildlife and scenic views.
It’s not difficult to find a wide variety of birds, and even the occasional wild mammal in our own back yards. Being a native I sometimes forget that the opossum rooting through my garden isn’t the real “wild Florida” experience.
The good news is it’s easy to make a short trip to see a piece of the real “wild Florida.” The great news is you don’t even have to break a sweat doing it.
The Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands are located a few short miles west of the traffic circle in Viera. There are many opportunities to see a wide variety of birds, mammals and reptiles at the sanctuary.
On a recent visit of just 30 minutes I spotted a variety of birds including Eagles, Osprey, Hawks, a Caracara, Coots, Herons and a number of birds I’ll have to Google. Alligators are ever present sunning themselves on the banks of the roadways.
I didn’t see any on this visit but otters, raccoons and opossums are frequently seen as well. If you do bring small children and decide to let them out of the vehicle keep them close. Often alligators will sun themselves just feet from the roadside.
AMERICAN BALD EAGLES
Often times you can see an American Bald Eagle fly in from the west and start planning a hunt. It’s fascinating to see these animals in the wild. Should you take an Alaskan cruise to see Bald Eagles in the wild up close?
Sure you could, or you could just head out to the wetlands with a breakfast sandwich and watch it from the car. It’s actually very easy to forget how close you are to civilization given the variety and quantity of wildlife at the wetlands.
The wetlands are divided up into “cells” which are individual ponds surrounded by a network of roads. Each cell maintains a different water depth which means each cell is a unique ecosystem.
This layout also gives amazing access to people with disabilities who can’t hike many miles to experience a wide variety of wildlife. Simply roll the windows down, turn off the car and relax.
Of course pedestrians and bicyclists are welcome too. Take note that currently the roads around some of these cells on the West side of the wetlands are only open to vehicle traffic Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. All of the roads are open 7 days a week to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Certain roads may close after periods of heavy rain.
Why close any of the roads and limit access? Well you see the wetlands were constructed as part of the adjacent water treatment facility. They weren’t intended in the beginning to become what they are today.
You see when the wetlands were built the roads around these cells were not built to handle large volumes of vehicular traffic; they were built for maintenance vehicles. Fair enough, so how many visitors are we talking? Last year alone according to Brevard County the visitor count reached 135,000.
To put that number in perspective that’s every single resident of the cities of Melbourne, Rockledge, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, Indian Harbor Beach and Indialantic combined with a few left over visiting the wetlands in just one year. I can understand that’s a far cry from the intended use in the beginning, but as a community we shouldn’t use the “it’s the economy” line to dismiss the needs for funding more road maintenance.
VISITORS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
This isn’t just about another park. This is a wetland that has gained international attention for the quality and quantity of bird and wildlife photography. People come from not just all over Florida or the U.S., but from all over the world to visit the wetlands.
You’re starting to wonder what you’re missing aren’t you?
On this last brief trip I saw license plates from five different states and two Canadian provinces. All of these visitors need meals, they need fuel, and they may need lodging. Maintaining open access is a win, win, win situation. It’s not always the case that the needs of wildlife, the community, and the local economy all line up perfectly as they have here in Viera.
Thankfully The Fiends of Viera Wetlands group is currently raising money to help maintain all of the roads to a level that would allow them to be open seven days a week. If you enjoy your trip to the wetlands please drop a donation in the drop box on the way out. In addition to financial contributions The Friends of Viera wetlands are also seeking volunteers for a variety of positions.
The wetlands, located two miles West of I-95 on Wickham Road, and are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Coming April 1, the hours are extended from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The wetlands are pet friendly, but pets must remain on a leash at all times. The wetlands are free and there is no admission required, however donations are accepted.