One of Many Iconic Gems

Photo Credit: Phil Kloer
Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Photo Credit: Phil Kloer

If you read my An Expression of Feelingsblog post I hope you continue to follow me because the next few months will be devoted to learning, exploring, and sharing my thoughts about the wonders and benefits of urban/metropolitan area refuges can bring to people and their communities. Please enjoy this second installment … One of Many Iconic Gems!

When I asked a few people, “what comes to mind when you think about Florida/ West Palm Beach?” their answers ranged from Disney, beaches, oranges, ranchers to a melting pot, the Sunshine State, urbanization, the Everglades — home to hundreds of species of birds, native plants and the American alligator!

I was surprised that no one mentioned one of the most iconic gems in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Palm Beach metropolitan area — Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1951 and designated an urban wildlife refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), A.R.M. Loxahatchee NWR is considered one of the crown jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world’s largest network of protected land and water for wildlife conservation.

A035_C015_0624CL.0000251FSome believe this populous area of Florida symbolically represents the future direction our country is heading both environmentally and demographically because it’s at the forefront of the impacts of climate change and its communities are becoming increasingly diverse. Per 2010 census, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Palm Beach Metropolitan area has 5,564,635 residents. In Palm Beach County alone, 61% White-Non Hispanic, 17% African-American/Black and 19% Hispanic/Latino. However, in the next 50 years the population is expected to increase by 13.5 million people, requiring as much as 1.7 million acres of land for city use.

Besides the growing concerns with our warming climate, changing demographics and expanding population, there are many positive aspects that come to mind when you think about South Florida and this metropolitan area wildlife refuge. As illustrated in this short film A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is 1 of 14 priority urban wildlife refuges setting the example of how important it is to embrace people and the diverse communities surrounding them to ensure their mission of working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people is achieved.

bird-loxahatcheeFor the avid hunters and sportsmen, accessing the refuge is permissible during waterfowl season from the south end. Furthermore, Refuge staff are improving accessibility for boaters and the general public by rehabilitating 2 boat ramp parking lots with funding support from the Federal Highways.

But, if you are like me, the desire to get out into nature is also a way to ease some of the mental burdens we contend with on a daily basis and A.R.M. Loxahatchee NWR offers those benefits as well. There are number of biking, hiking and walking trails. Cypress Swamp Boardwalk (0.4 miles) for instance, gives you an up-close and personal swamp experience which is the only kind of this type of habitat that remains in Palm Beach County; plus, you might encounter an American alligator or two. I should caution you, although the American alligators are in abundance, these sluggish creatures, are generally afraid of people but are potentially fast-moving reptiles so one should be very careful.

Additionally, there’s the Marsh Trail loop (0.8 miles), Compartment C perimeter route and a couple of one-way trails that lead to the Hillsboro Recreation area where you can enjoy bank fishing; boating or fishing off the 57-mile perimeter canal and canoeing along the Everglades Canoe Trail (5.5 miles), which more than likely will bring you back to your childhood days or better yet, might instill a sense of peace and comfort of being in the great outdoors.

I haven’t forgotten my birdwatchers and photographers; the Refuge offers plenty of opportunities to capture a sighting or picture of great blue, little blue, and tri-colored herons; white ibis and other species of birds like the wood stork, Florida sandhill crane and the Everglades snail kite. During the spring and autumn migration season you are likely to see many species of shorebirds and neotropical songbirds too.

Rather than for me to describe what you’ll see and experience, come visit A.R.M. Loxahatchee NWR. The Visitors Center has a beautiful butterfly garden, plus nearby the Marsh Loop trail you can view wild plants and wildlife from the observation tower, or learn more about this last vestige of the Northern Everglades through their state-of-the-art interpretative exhibits, environmental education programs or interpreter-guided walks and canoe excursions.
While I have focused much of this blog on the recreational side of A.R.M. Loxahatchee NWR, Refuge staff are making strides in reaching beyond the traditional boundaries and cultivating partnerships with multi-lingual community-based, faith and youth organizations, for example, Our Queen of Peace Catholic Church, the YMCA, Caridad Center, the School District of Palm Beach County and most recently, Pine Jog Environmental Education Center at Florida Atlantic University, a designated USFWS Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.

These partnerships will be an invaluable asset for the Refuge as they continue to bond with their surrounding communities while helping the people of South Florida to gain a sense of environmental ownership, connection with this treasured gem and our Refuge System.

Joy Blackwood is the Refuge Association’s Urban Wildlife Refuge Program Manager. If you would like to share your thoughts or have comments/questions, she can be reached at jblackwood@refugeassociation.org or 202-577-3396.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2016/09/one-of-many-iconic-gems/

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