County phases out Viera Wetlands volunteer program

Volunteers at the popular Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Viera are being moved to different duties after Brevard County Utility Services consolidated management of the wetlands under its department. The volunteers were instrumental in helping with community events at the Wetlands.

Volunteers who patrolled the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Viera and told visitors about the popular man-made habitat have been informed they are no longer needed at the site after Brevard County Utility Services merged management of the wetlands under its department.

Known as the Wetland Rangers, some 12 to 15 volunteers who served at the 200-acre Viera Wetlands adjacent to the South Central sewer plant are being offered “new opportunities” that match their skills, said Raleigh Berry III, the senior environmental scientist with the county’s Natural Resources Management Department.

“Utility Services recently consolidated management of the Viera Wetlands under their department, and volunteers under my direction no longer have a role at the site,” Berry stated in an email.

The move comes after county officials in March closed the park to vehicle and golf cart traffic until further notice, allowing foot traffic and bicycles only. Utilities staff from the nearby sewer plant had been having difficulty getting to the site due to the large number of vehicles, and the two miles of dirt berms that surround the wetlands were becoming worn and unsafe for vehicle traffic, officials explained. County officials said the 21-year-old wetlands were never intended to become a major tourist attraction. 

A favorite spot for birdwatchers and nature photographers at the western end of Wickham Road, Viera Wetlands attracted about 200,000 visitors a year before vehicles were banned. Many visitors would drive along the berms to view nesting birds, otters and alligators that searched for food in four ponds filled with treated wastewater flowing from the sewer plant. The ponds clean the wastewater naturally before it seeps out into the St. Johns River floodplain.

Wetland Rangers were upset to learn in May that they were being given other duties. Viera resident Harry Behret, a retiree and a ranger for eight years, believes that the county eventually plans to permanently close the wetlands to visitors because it’s “no longer an attraction.” Wildlife activity at the wetlands has decreased dramatically since he first started visiting the site around 2003, he said.

“All the surrounding areas where the wildlife came from are now developed and the wildlife has moved on,” said Behret, who used to volunteer 40 hours a month at the park. “So the wildlife activity there is down a lot, around 80 percent from when I started going there.”