Exploring Vero Beach, Florida’s Pelican Island

Florida - Vero Beach - Pelican Island
Florida - Vero Beach - Pelican Island

Are you planning a trip to Vero Beach, Florida and Pelican Island? If you love the great outdoors, you’ll positively love this place. Here you’ll discover that the National Wildlife Refuge System all began in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt set the 5.5-acre Pelican Island aside as the country’s first Federal Bird Reservation. It was essentially the forerunner to the National Wildlife Refuge System. 

This article explores the area’s history and the things to do here. So, let’s unpack Exploring Vero Beach, Florida’s Pelican Island. 

A Movement that Began with Pelican Island 

When Pelican Island became a federal bird reservation it would be the start of a movement that would spread across the country. What began then ultimately ballooned into over 560 wildlife refuse areas that protect over 560 million acres of land and the wildlife within them.  

And now, more than 50 million visitors a year are able to enjoy these protected lands and witness wildlife in natural surroundings.  

The Birds of Pelican Island  

  • Blue Heron 
  • Brown Pelican 
  • Snowy Egret and Anhinga 
  • Roseate Spoonbill  
  • Anhinga 
  • Brown Pelican 

The birds of Pelican Island owe something of a debt of gratitude to a man named Paul Kroegel. Kroegel lived on the West Bank of the Indian River during the 19th century. There he could see Pelican Island and ultimately made it his mission to protect the birds of the island that were hunted for their beautiful plumes. 

Kroegel would risk his own life taking his boat and his shotgun out to the island and protecting the birds. Eventually, he was hired by the Florida Audubon Society to protect the island. After President Roosevelt created federal protection for the island, Kroegel was them hired as the very first National Wildlife Refuge Manager.  

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Where is Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge? 

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is located off route A1A about three miles south of the Sebastian Inlet in what is known as Indian River Lagoon. The area of the refuge that is open to the public has since expanded to over 5,400 acres and sits along the Historic Jungle Trail.  

The trail is actually a dirt/sand road that was constructed in the 1920s for the citrus industry. It stretches nearly eight miles along the Indian River. The trail features stunning views of the coastal scenery for those walking, hiking, running, biking, or driving along the trail.  

Florida - Vero Beach - Pelican Island

The Pelican Island Trails 

At the wildlife refuge there are three main hiking trails that cover an area of about seven miles. The shortest of the three trails, the Centennial Trail, takes visitors to the Pelican Island observation tower. 

What’s interesting about the trail is the raised boardwalk section of the trail that contains over 560 engraved planks. Each planks holds the name, state, and year established of one of the nation’s National Wildlife Refuges. The boardwalk was opened in 2003 marking the 100-year anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  

As you head towards the boardwalk section of the trial, you’ll pass a butterfly garden. There is also a freshwater pond where you can observe birds and local water fowl in the area. You also might get a chance to see some blue crabs, turtles, fish, and snakes.  

Along the trail there are several well-placed benches from which you can sit and take in the wildlife around you. Where the Centennial Trail ends, you’ll also discover an elevated observation tower that provides a great view of Pelican Island and the Indian River Lagoon.  

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Are you still planning your trip to Florida? Check out our articles Disney World Orlando – What to Pack for Winter Months, Best Time of Year to Visit Disney World Orlando, Florida, and Best Family Resorts in Orlando, Florida. 

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