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Hiking trail with great lagoon views to debut next year

Photo: The Oyster Bar Marsh Trail.

Island residents soon will have access to a new 2-mile hiking trail with spectacular views of the Indian River Lagoon and access to kayaking and wildlife.

The Oyster Bar Marsh Trail, on the river a mile south of the Moorings, will circle a 155-acre peninsula that contains a unique salt marsh and critical wildlife habitat, says David Heuberger, director of land protection at the Indian River Land Trust.

The project, which will be designed this year and built next year, is a joint venture between the Land Trust and the county.

“There will be a trail head on A1A with an informational kiosk and parking for approximately 15 cars,” says Heuberger. “Further along the trail, there will be boardwalks along edge of water and into the central wetlands, so you can see the wildlife that utilizes that habitat.”

A little further along will be “a pavilion, essentially a covered observation deck. What is special about this is the open water views. Visitors will be able to look west and southwest across lagoon at five miles of undeveloped shoreline that has already been protected by the county and the Land Trust.

“Just south of the trail is Round Island, where kayaking is very popular, and the plan is to make the pavilion a kayaking destination, possibly with a kayak launch/landing area.”

The quiet protected waters in the area between the Oyster Bar salt marsh and Round Island are one of the best places on the coast to observe manatees and dolphins and are loaded with game fish such as tarpon and sea trout.

The fish population should increase once the new project is complete.

The property was impounded – surrounded with an earthen dike – by the mosquito control district years ago, and the Land Trust is working with the mosquito control district and St. Johns River Water Management District to open the interior wetlands back up to the lagoon on a seasonal basis, restoring the area as a water purification system and nursery for game fish.

“This is very important conservation property,” says Heuberger. “It wasn’t just purchased for a public trail. Oyster Bar Marsh is the largest impounded salt marsh on the barrier island in Indian River County. Hydrologic enhancement will improve its function as critical nursery grounds for estuarine species and foraging area for wading birds. We are very excited about those aspects of the project, too.”

Indian River County bought 96 acres at the site in 2001, using bond funds and money from Florida Communities Trust, but was not able to acquire the rest of the property needed for the trail.

The site lay fallow until 2015, when the Land Trust stepped in and bought an additional 30 acres that allowed the trail and land restoration project to go forward. Another 30 or so acres on the peninsula are still privately owned.

The county commission approved the partnership in May and Land Trust personnel met with county staff members in June to begin hammering out a memorandum of agreement.

Land Trust Executive Director Ken Grudens says the project is moving ahead smoothly, in part because the agreement crafted when the county and Land Trust created the Lagoon Greenway on the mainland is serving as a template for the current partnership.

“That one took a long time to get off the ground,” says Grudens. “But it proved to be wildly successful in the end. That is our precedent.”

The cost for the trail project – not including the cost of the land – is $350,000, according to Grudens. The Land Trust will put up $100,000, the county $250,000.

“We will take lead in design and engineering as we did with Lagoon Greenway,” Grudens says. “We’ll use our funds to hire an engineer for the parking lot and trail.”

The Land Trust will help the county apply for matching grants from Florida Inland Navigation District and Florida’s Recreational Trails Program that could defray half the county’s contribution.

“Those grants applications are due next spring and survey and design work will be finished by then in order that we have a complete design to present to FIND and Recreational Trails Program,” says Heuberger.

To date, including the Oyster Bar Marsh Trail property, the Indian River Land Trust has protected 977 acres and nearly 10 miles of lagoon shoreline.

Heuberger says the trail property is named after the abundant natural oyster bars that were present in the area when the mosquito impoundment was originally constructed in 1964.