Indian River County officials opened an 86-acre nature preserve in Vero on Friday, after a year of strategic work and dedication toward helping the environment. Osprey Acres Preserve, located at 925 5th Street Southwest, was designed in collaboration with county officials and a team of engineering consultants by Vero Beach Stormwater Engineer Keith McCully.
The dual-purpose sanctuary serves as a water treatment area for the Indian River Lagoon and a recreational resource to the public for the purpose of hiking, jogging, bird-watching, and other nature-loving intents. There are nearly four miles of dedicated hiking trails to enjoy. The parcel of land was purchased in 2016 by Indian River County for $1 million.
Seventeen acres of the preserve is a dedicated stormwater treatment area, according to McCully, who has been with the city for 19 years.
“The treatment area uses saline and water lettuce that’s meant to take out nutrients from the floway water coming from Osprey Marsh before it goes into the lagoon,” McCully explained. Those nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorous primarily – are part of what creates ecology-toxic algae blooms that are harmful to the environment. Osprey Marsh, which began operation in 2015, is a water-cleanup area that neighbors Osprey Acres.
Both of the county-owned properties are strategically designed to work collaboratively in protecting the environment. Osprey Marsh’s treatment area includes a 4.6-acre algae farm that removes most of the nutrients that become toxic. Additional nutrients are removed in a polishing pond and a created wetland. That water, which flows toward Osprey Acres, gets storm runoff water from neighboring canals and ponds, before reaching Osprey Acres, which aids in treatment of the water going to the lagoon.
“Essentially the elements of the treatment area take untreated stormwater and canal water that’s mixed with partially treated water from the marsh and cleans it up,” McCully said. “The water that ends up running into the Indian River Lagoon is safer for the environment, and ultimately safer for the residents in the county.” The roots of the floating water lettuce, along with other filter marsh, eat the nutrients. Florida Department of Environmental Protection has established mandates aimed at protecting the Indian River Lagoon, which has been designated an “Estuary of National Significance.”
“We live in a world that unfortunately has to consider the possible contamination throughout our food and water sources because of natural pollutants and the usage of gas, etc.” said Vero Beach local Cole Pfautz. “It’s such a blessing to be able to see first-hand how the city is protecting our environment here.” Pfautz, an avid runner and nature-lover, works in solar consulting and advocates for environmental protection on a number of levels. “I think these trails are great for reflection, reflection on yourself, the world, and the environment. The whole concept of what this preserve consists of helps you appreciate and recognize what needs to be consistently improved upon to make this world a better place.”
Three grants aided in the funding of the preserve, which totaled an estimated $7.4 million – $1.2 million from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, $1.2 million from the St. John’s River Water Management District and a $1.23 million Florida House Appropriations Grant. The county funded the remaining $3.8 million from the one-cent local option sales tax, according to county documents.
As far as wildlife that can be seen within Osprey Acres, McCully said there are raccoons, opossums, gopher tortoises, and plenty of bird life for local birdwatchers. “Really any wildlife that would generally be associated with typical Florida uplands,” he said. He pointed out that residents didn’t have to worry about any bears on the preserve. Also, no deer.
The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., not including weekends. Dogs are not allowed, and the trails are designed for only hiking or jogging, no bikes or off-road utility vehicles aside from dedicated maintenance vehicles. Service animals are permitted.
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