Interested in visiting or hunting the Upper St. Johns River Marsh wildlife management area inside the River Lakes Conservation area?
The following is my personal experience at this location.
When I became interested in learning how to hunt, some early advice I received was the need to go scouting prior to hunting season. It’s extremely important to learn where the wildlife frequents in order to find them during hunting season. Spending plenty of time scouting is important and this can’t be done effectively at locations that are hours away from home. Being a Brevard County resident, I decided the best chance I had at becoming a successful hunter was to start scouting a location nearby. So I choose the Upper St. Johns River Marsh wildlife management area.
The Upper St Johns River Marsh is located at the Western most end of Wickham Road in Viera. Actually it’s even further west than that. From Viera, go through the roundabout and continue heading west. If you arrive at the famous Viera Wetlands, you missed the turn by just a little bit. Just two hundred feet before reaching the waste water plant you’ll find a right hand turn onto a dirt road. Take it and then immediately turn left.
Once you’re on the dirt road head west for 3 ½ miles until you arrive at a dirt parking lot. Oh, did I mention you’ll need a bicycle? If you’ve got a mountain bike with more than ten gears you’ll need it because without one, you’ll, pretty much, be limited to the parking area. (Yes, I have seen some people walk the trails but they don’t get far.)
The parking lot is not actually in the Upper St. Johns River Marsh wildlife management area. It’s in the River Lakes Conservation area. The WMA is about a mile from the parking area and, unfortunately, motorized vehicles are not allowed beyond the parking lot. This means that if you don’t have a bicycle, you’ll likely not make it to the WMA unless you’re prepared to walk two miles round trip just to reach the boundary of it.
Also, I should mention, before you set foot out of your car, look at where you’re putting your feet. There is a lot of cow poop. Even more concerning is that on one trip in the Spring of 2009 I encounter half a dozen pigmy rattlesnakes in a little more than one hour. But I’ve never again had the opportunity to see so many of these reptiles. None the less if you are planning to walk in the area, it would be wise to wear high top boots or cowboy boots.
While riding you’re mountain bike, you’ll want to gear down into your lowest gears (hence the need for a bike with lots of gears). You’ll be trudging along through short grass, but even in first or second gear the pedaling is cumbersome as you roll along at the speed of a brisk walk or slow jog.
There are three trails to choose from, North, South, and West. Firearms are not permitted on the South trail, so if you’re there to hunt, that area will not be accessible. The West and North trails are called the hunter’s corridor and are meant as a path for visitors to be able to reach the wild life management area.
Because the parking lot and trail are not in the WMA (wildlife management area) hunting and shooting are not permitted in these areas. However, you are allowed to hunt in the WMA during various hunting seasons. To know exactly what hunting season it is, read the FWC brochure for the region.
If you take the North trail you will reach the first entrance into the wildlife management area in 1.2 miles and the second entrance 500 yards north of that and the third entrance slightly more than half a mile beyond that.
Using the West trail is much more reasonable. Despite the sign’s claim, the WMA is slightly more than half a mile from the parking lot. But watch out for stray bulls. They occasionally get outside the barb wire fence. I had an encounter with a bull who was probably two thousand pounds. He saw me approaching and began making huffing and puffing noises, putting his head low and stomping his feet. I quickly turned my bicycle around and made a hasty retreat. The corridor runs along a canal. There is plenty of wildlife to see along this canal such as the occasional alligator and birds of all kinds. Although this is the shortest path to the WMA, you should be aware that upon arriving at the Upper St Johns River Marsh, you’ll have quite literally just barely arrived. You’ll find two miles of wide open prairie / marsh laid out before you with few trees except for those at a great distance.
When I arrived there in March 2013, the whole area had recently experienced a control burn and as such there was only the new growth of sawgrass which gave an unobstructed view of the enormity of the place. However come hunting season the grass will have probably grown several feet.
When I took the North trail I went all the way to the end and upon arriving at the WMA I found myself looking over five square miles of prairie / marsh.
I have yet to figure out where the deer and wild hogs can be found but that will be the purpose of additional visits.