Pelican Island offers contrast to urban life

SEBASTIAN, Fla. — Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is only 9.3 miles from the house in which I grew up. It’s 7.2 miles from Pelican Island Elementary: the elementary school I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. The refuge is less than one mile from the country club where I worked for two years while in high school.

It’s ironic that I lived in Sebastian for the first 18 years of my life and never actually visited Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

I thought about this on my drive back from the refuge this past weekend with my two younger sisters Natalie and Sarah. It was also their first time going to the adjacent facility where visitors can see the protected island.

PINWRblog One of the signs that direct visitors at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (Photo by Vanessa Ramos).

It almost seems wrong that I grew up so close to the nation’s first wildlife refuge and never took the time to actually go see it.

In my defense, the public viewing facilities and walking trails didn’t open until 2003. The only way to see the refuge up until that point was by boat.

I was 12 going on 13 when the trails and observation areas opened to the public. But like many mall-crazed teenage girls, going to visit a historical or educational site was not on the top of my to-do list.

Growing up my friends and I would drive on A1A wasting time and gas, but it never occurred to us to see Pelican Island. We would go to the beaches or watch the surfers instead.

I guess it takes leaving your hometown to really appreciate what it has to offer.

Living in Miami the past three years and attending the University of Miami has been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But sometimes you just need to get away from the chaos of the city and go somewhere that is undisturbed and blissfully void of crowds.

That’s what Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge made me realize. If I had gone there in high school I would’ve thought it was another boring place with a bunch of birds. But after the craziness of Miami, Pelican Island seems like a beautiful haven.

All my sister and I heard while we were there was the buzzing of bees and the wind rustling the mangroves. At the observation tower at the end of the Centennial Trail we had a great view of pelicans diving into the water.

I also like the fact that people aren’t allowed on the actual island. That makes it seem more special, especially in this day in age where humans want access everywhere.

I left with a deeper respect for nature and the tiny island that made a big impact on wildlife preservation in this country.

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