A Day at Ulumay
by Jennifer Harpez
Inconspicuously positioned off commercial
highway 520 is the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary. Situated on 436 acres
in Merritt Island, Florida, the sanctuary is an unexpected resource
for soft adventure. Merritt Island, population 36,090, is the site
of NASA’s Moonport, from which the Shuttle is launched. The
city is located off the east coast, bounded by the Indian River
and Banana Creek. The island is named after the early settler given
the land grant by Spain. The oranges planted here were among the
few to escape the frost killing of 1835. Buds from these trees revived
Florida’s citrus industry.
Although there were no orange trees at Ulumay, there were many
other sites to see. A turn at the rustic entrance sign to the sanctuary
took me down a dirt road to a short fishing pier jutting out into
the Indian River; a great place for family fishing. The place was
quiet and lush. First impressions left me wondering if the trip
would be worth it. As soon as I asked myself, “What could
I possibly see here,” I turned my head just in time to spot
a beautiful medium size bird with a baby blue beak. The bird soared
gracefully from the mangroves adjacent to the fishing pier. My heart
began to beat a bit faster in anticipation of seeing more wildlife.
Under the intense Florida heat, I strolled down the dirt road. To
my left, Royal Terns were riding the wind blowing from the west.
Then, I approached a small group of wildlife, indeed. Mountain bikers
of all things! I peered around the landscape looking for a trail.
Where were they biking? Aha! To my left was a trailhead that introduced
a narrow dirt road. I had to explore were it led, of course. I walked
as far as I could under the glaring sun.
The flat dirt road seemed to go on forever, nestled between two
canals. Along my hike I found company with several bird species,
including Little Blue Herons, and a very tall Great Egret. Trying
to get closer to the herons, I walked to the edge of the shore and
spotted a small stingray gliding through the shallow brackish water.
As I hiked further into the refuge, I came across a tall pole. Atop
the pole was a grand nest. Thankfully, the refuge was providing
nesting areas atop several poles for what I believe was Ospreys.
In addition to the opportunity to mountain bike down miles of trail,
adventure seekers can also rent a canoe and launch into the Ulumay
Inlet from the trail. A sign clearly marks the launch site.
The Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary is a hidden treasure that will reward
anyone with a day of soft adventure within a very accessible and
significant city. As I trot back to the car everything seems to
be in place in this small and protected piece of land. A Red Winged
Blackbird flew overhead, mullet sprouted up and over the water in
both canals beside me, and I smiled in response to the rhythm of
life I was a part.
Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary
805 Sykes Creek Parkway
Merritt Island, Florida
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