There are a couple unique getaway-from-it-all locations near the Space Coast that allow you to get outdoors and away from COVID hotspots. And they are free!
Their official functions are to serve as holding ponds for gray water and storm water, allowing the sediments and pollution to settle out before the water is pumped into places like the St. Johns River. That sounds a little boring, but their
really big attraction is for public recreation.
There are no picnic shelters, no playgrounds, just miles of walkways and paths for walking, hiking, bike riding, bird watching, photography. The Orlando wetlands even allows horseback riding. The Viera wetlands allows car traffic when the trails aren’t too muddy. They are easy places to observe social distancing.
If you’re a birder and photographer the best time to visit is November to March when the migratory birds are in residence. Yes, you can see eagles! Even during the summer months you can still spot herons, egrets and osprey. Birds at the wetlands are usually more accustomed to people, so you can get closer than you normally could in the wild.
There are other wildlife that has been spotted in the parks. Bobcats, coyotes are occasionally seen. And yes, there are alligators in the ponds. The Orlando park says there are over a thousand gators in residence.
Both parks are part of the Great Florida Birding Trail network.
The Orlando wetlands in Christmas is by far the biggest. It has 18 miles of berm trails over 1,650 acres. The wetlands filters out over 5-billion gallons of reclaimed water a year before releasing it into the St. Johns.
The Viera wetlands covers 200 acres and has two and a half miles of trails. There is a raised observation viewing platform in the middle of the park. The banks or littoral areas around the holding ponds are seeded with native Florida wildflowers and grasses.
Admission to both locations is free. The Orlando park has an environmental center and visitors pavilion where you can get maps and sign up for tours. Those facilities are only open on Friday and Saturday, but currently are closed completely due to the COVID restrictions. There are no picnic tables, but that doesn’t stop you from throwing a sandwich in the backpack. Remember to take plenty of water, especially during the warmer months. A shady large brimmed hat is a good idea.