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National Gopher Tortoise Day: Scrub Hike

April 10 @ 9:00 am - 10:30 am EDT


Event is being co-hosted by Space Coast Audubon and Merritt Island Wildlife Association
Gopher Tortoise Day
April 10th was officially adopted by the Gopher Tortoise Council as Gopher Tortoise Day! In Florida, gopher tortoises are found in parts of all 67 counties and are frequently encountered in neighborhoods, along roadways, and in many of Florida’s public parks and forests. The goal of Gopher Tortoise Day is to increase awareness and appreciation for these long lived, gentle reptiles.

Join us for a Scrub Hike to learn about scrub plants and the wildlife that reside in this habitat, including Gopher Tortoises and the Florida Scrub Jay.

Scrub Ridge Trail hike (field trip – walking)
This trail is a 0.9-mile loop and considered to be an easy hike. It is flat and has almost no shade. We’ll walk for approx. 45 to 60 minutes in hopes of seeing gopher tortoises and Florida Scrub Jays. Along the trail we will stop periodically for our trip leaders to share information about native plants found in the scrub and the significance of Gopher Tortoises as a keystone species. Depending on our observations, we may travel to a second location nearby to observe a grouping of active gopher tortoise burrows.

Following our hike we will gather at Sendler Education Outpost (large, open air pavilion with picnic tables) to enjoy a group picnic and receive Gopher Tortoise activity kits. To add to the fun, we will have some Gopher Tortoise themed engagement prizes to encourage attendees to ask questions, share learnings, and participate in activities.

What to bring: water, snack, binoculars (let us know if you need to borrow a pair), bug repellent, sun protection and picnic lunch.
Suggestions for the best comfort: wear closed toed shoes (no flip flops), long pants, and a good sun protection hat.
What’s provided: Gopher Tortoise activity kits, snacks, and raffle prizes.

Please park at the entrance to Scrub Ridge Trail inside the Merritt Island NWR. You can get a map of the Refuge at the Visitor Center (located 3.5 miles from the Max Brewer Bridge) or view the cutout section in the photo gallery on Meetup. There are limited parking spaces, so please park to make maximum use of the dirt parking area or consider carpooling from the visitor center. Some vehicles may need to park along the road to the Scrub Ridge Trail. This trail does not have any restrooms. Flush toilets are available at the Visitor Center.

Sendler Education Outpost (lunch location) has lots of parking and two entrance gates. There are vault toilet restrooms by the pavilion. Use of the pavilion is provided by Special Use Permit.

About Our Leaders:
Paul Schmalzer, PhD is a plant ecologist. He recently retired from his role with the Integrated Mission Support Services at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. His research interests include: effects of fire on vegetation and soils, restoration of scrub ecosystems, distribution of rare scrub plants, and composition and dynamics of barrier island plant communities. Dr. Schmalzer serves on the Board of Directors of the Sea Rocket Native Plant Society.

Gráinne O’Grady earned her Masters of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from North Carolina State University. She has served in roles as an Avian Technician, Wildlife Techniques Teaching Assistant, and a Museum Technician. Gráinne is passionate about wildlife biology, wildlife ecology, Ornithology, Wildlife Habitat Management, human dimensions of wildlife, and Museum Collections.


April 10
9:00 am - 10:30 am EDT


Scrub Ridge Trail, MINWR