Viera Wetlands need more volunteers, donations


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About three dozen volunteers dedicate thousands of hours yearly to the Viera Wetlands.

VIERA VOICE Julie Sturgeon

Birding enthusiasts and nature lovers flock to the Viera Wetlands daily to enjoy watching the colorful show of waterfowl, shore birds and the occasional alligator.

Many of those same enthusiasts will attend the ninth annual Viera Wetlands Nature Festival on April 21 and 22.

As the Viera Wetlands becomes more popular, the challenge of preserving the unique wildlife area increases. According to the Board of County Commissioners, as many as 210,000 visitors tour the wetlands each year. The 200 or so acres are neither a conservation area nor a park.

“The wetlands were constructed as a component of the water treatment facility,’’ said Raleigh Berry, the Senior Environmental Scientist for Brevard County Natural Resources. “As such, the funding is derived through Utility Services and is spent on the treatment of sewage, not recreational purposes. This leaves us in a pickle.”

The South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, located adjacent to the wetlands, predated the wilderness area, according to Berry. The outlying wetlands design, which comprises four 35-acre cells of water and a central lake, provides variable habitats for birds and animals. The wetlands, properly called the Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands, were named for a long-time employee at the water treatment plant.

Although the Department of Natural Resources manages the wetlands, volunteers and donations are crucial to ensuring that public access continues. Dedicated volunteers and ongoing donations are vital, particularly for road repair. Berm roads were constructed for light maintenance traffic; however, the roads are heavily traversed by visitor vehicles.

“At the peak of birding season, we have a vehicle entering the gate every four minutes,” Berry said. “The berm roads were constructed for maybe a couple of vehicles a day. The real problem is when it rains — potholes result.”

Filling those potholes is one of the services wetlands volunteers provide; road repairs cost about $2,500 each.

Volunteers perform a variety of other tasks, including kiosk and gazebo upkeep, controlling non-native and invasive species, and tending the butterfly garden. Habitat management is crucial in maintaining a diverse collection of ecosystems

“It’s a beautiful site for visitors,” Berry said, “but we rely on volunteers. A few years into the project we started to actively manage the wetlands and perform monitoring of species like cattails, torpedo grass and Brazilian pepper.”

Volunteers also assist with site security and public safety issues, including closing the park every day. Wetland rangers, who perform these tasks, receive advanced training. They lead tours, monitor traffic and answer questions from visitors.

“We are continually interested in building our volunteer program and potentially expanding it,” Berry said.

Fundraising challenges remain a struggle for the wetlands. Since government funding is slated for wastewater treatment, visitors’ monetary contributions are paramount. Just a dollar or two per visit can add up to the thousands of dollars per year necessary for the preservation of a treasured Viera wilderness.

It is not often that a key component to water safety provides an immeasurable amount of natural beauty. A sanctuary for wildlife, the Viera Wetlands also provide an opportunity for residents to escape and enjoy natural Florida untouched by development.

To volunteer or make a donation to the Viera Wetlands, go to the website brevardfl.gov/NaturalResources/EnvironmentalResources/VieraWetlands.