City leaders working to secure $250,000 grant for Fellsmere Preserve

FELLSMERE — Fellsmere city officials will find out in four to five months whether they will receive $250,000 in grant monies to improve and rehabilitate the 86-acre Fellsmere Preserve located northwest of the County Road 512 and Interstate 95 interchange.

“We’re very excited about this project,” City Manager Jason Nunemaker told the Fellsmere City Council last week, adding that he envisions creating something akin to the Environmental Learning Center located on the barrier island off Wabasso Causeway. Where the ELC highlights the varied ecology of the Indian River Lagoon, Fellsmere boasts pine and scrub flatwoods, cypress, sandhills and swamps.

The anticipated improvements and work the city wants to perform on the site is part of the required 10-year management program the city is required to do in exchange for acquiring the property.

Such work includes removing non-native and invasive species of vegetation, establishing an overlook and playground, and providing space for primitive campsites.

Also included in the plans is an observation tower, which visitors could use for bird watching and spotting other wildlife.

Councilman Joel Tyson joked that the city could lease the tower for deer hunting.

“If we could do that, it’d be leased 365 days,” Nunemaker said, playing along with the joke. He reminded the council that hunting is not allowed in the preserve, though the city has a permitted trapper for the non-native species.

Nunemaker said he’d like to see the preserve also be a place for the city to test out green initiatives, such as chemical toilets, due to the lack of sewer connections there.

Tyson quipped visitors and campers could use leaves instead of toilet paper. Nunemaker said that might be too extreme.

Also included in the plans is a trailhead facility that might serve as a visitors center promoting the various eco-friendly activities in the area. A future hotel, too, could be located nearby when the economy picks up, Nunemaker said.

At one point, the city would also like to include a fish hatchery, a produce farm, a canoe launch, and various trails throughout the preserve.

Nunemaker said he expects the city to continue searching for grant opportunities because the $250,000 grant would not cover everything they have in mind.

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