Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Center Brings Increased Attendance

The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve has experienced an 87 percent increase in visitors this July compared to July 2011. In recent months, staff members have seen an abundance of new guests enter the research reserve’s nature center, which was completed in February 2011 and sits at the foot of the bridge to St. George Island.

“This whole summer has been booming”, said Reserve Director Lee Edmiston, “It’s not unusual to see 250 or 300 guests a day come through the doors.”

With time running out before school starts, the nature center offers Florida Panhandle residents and visitors a unique opportunity to see nature up close before the summer ends. The center allows visitors to explore the unique connections of the Apalachicola River, Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf Coast in Franklin County.

The center offers several large aquariums that feature local fish and turtles from fresh, salt water and brackish water habitats. In the center’s Bay Discovery Room, guests can touch the bones and shells of a collection of items from the Apalachicola area. A nine-minute film featuring mural artist Barbara Harmon explains the center’s mural and takes guests on an educational journey connecting the river to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Nature Center is located directly on the bay and includes a small park with a picnic shelter that makes a great place for inexpensive family fun. A short walk on the bayfront provides an opportunity to spot shorebirds. Extensive bottomland hardwoods, pine flatwoods and coastal barrier islands are just a few of the natural communities that make the research reserve a gem of natural diversity.

The 247,000 acres of public lands and waters within the boundaries of the research reserve also offer access to paddling trails and a paddle craft launch at the main site. At Scipio Creek, a nature trail ends with a platform over the water and a beautiful view across the creek to the Apalachicola River.

The Reserve is open to educate the public, but also provides access to research opportunities for staff and volunteers. In keeping with the Department’s priority of getting the water right, one component of reserve staff research has been water quality data collection at Cat Point and Dry Bar oyster bars — two of the most productive oyster bars in the bay. This research studies the effects of changing river flow in the 20 years these bars have been studied.

Visitors are welcome between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and admission is free. For more information, call the Reserve at 850-670-7700 or visit the Reserve’s website.

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