I would like to tell you about an amazing place in Northern Florida you have never heard of! St Marks Wildlife Refuge. Incredible! We just moved to this area at the beginning of September. Because I am trying to catch up on work, nesting in my new home, and hunting for decent, fresh produce I have not had much time to check out the area.
However, the aforementioned refuge has an annual Monarch Butterfly festival so we went. This area of the country is a migratory path for the butterflies. I have never SEEN SO MANY butterflies in one place in my life! In fact, due to this I am going to make a backyard certified wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation!
Did you know the US Fish and Wildlife service has begun a Save the Monarch Butterfly campaign? They want us to buy and plant Milkweed for the Monarchs. These gorgeous animals are in big trouble because they have no place to lay their eggs. Additionally, food for the caterpillar has declined considerably. This is such an issue the FWS is concerned the Monarch could disappear in our lifetime. Milkweed is a favorite plant for them and it grows natively in our part of the state. I am going to do my part and plant milkweed on our property!
Back to the Wildlife Refuge. It is actually one of the oldest refuges in the US. Established in 1931, its purpose is to provide habitat for wintering migratory birds. It is 70,000 acres and includes 43 miles of coastline.
There is an educational center onsite with two large classrooms. When we were there, kids were in one of the rooms learning about the monarchs. There is also a gift shop with a small area that teaches us about the local animals and the lighthouse…Oh yeah, the lighthouse!
The original St Mark’s lighthouse was completed in 1831. It is now underwater. The second was completed in 1842. The purpose for it was to direct merchant vessels to the mouth of the St Marks River.
Some of the fun things you can do at the refuge are:
Birding: As I previously mentioned, this refuge was created specifically for migrating birds. Fall and Spring are the most recommended times of years for you Birders out there who cannot resist the call. According to the website, waterfowl can be best seen from mid-November to late December and shore birds are present in late spring and early fall. We saw several Great Blue Herons and White Ibis.
Hiking: The refuge has miles of trails for walking, biking and hiking including the Florida National Scenic Trail which is 49.5 miles.
Hunting: Certain areas of the refuge are open for hunting depending on the season.
Fishing/Boating: You can fresh water and salt water fish here! Additionally, there are two boat launch areas that give you access to Apalachicola Bay.
Wildlife viewing: The 150 miles of roads and trails make it easy for you to check out the amazing Florida flora and fauna.
Photography: The refuge offers beginning nature photography courses. They also have a very active photography club.
The St Marks Wildlife Refuge is an incredibly beautiful and diverse environment. For only $5.00 per car you get hours of nature and outdoor enjoyment. Go check it out.