A peek inside Turkey Creek Sanctuary in Palm Bay, Fla. — Photo courtesy of City of Palm Bay
You’d never expect to find this patch of raw, natural and wild land right in the heart of busy Palm Bay, Fla.
“We have alligators, turtles, snake and fish. It’s a nice getaway, and it’s right in the middle of suburban Palm Bay,” says Johnson, a naturalist and park ranger for the City of Palm Bay. “Once you walk in here, it’s like you’ve really left the other world behind, and people like that.”
The sanctuary started in the late '70s. A developer donated to the Audubon Society about 50 acres of swamp land around Turkey Creek that was unusable for building. The society decided to lease the land to the City of Palm Bay for $1 for 25 years, Johnson says.
Originally, the land was a bird sanctuary, run entirely by the City of Palm Bay. But over the years, it has grown and morphed into one of the most popular places to visit in Palm Bay. It draws about 30,000 visitors every year. And it’s especially popular among the locals.
Today, the sanctuary has expanded to include 130 acres and includes various partnerships with Brevard County and the Florida Community Trust. It features two miles of hiking trails, a 1.5-mile jogging and exercise trail and a lengthy boardwalk.
The gazebo in Turkey Creek Sanctuary — Photo courtesy of City of Palm Bay
Along Turkey Creek, visitors can also access a one-mile-long mountain bike trail that connects with a larger bike trail in nearby Malabar that extends for about nine miles.
Over the years, the city has organized guided naturalist tours, informative slide shows and kid-friendly puppet shows, says Johnson. It has also been home to Earth Day celebrations, boat rides and other events.
Although the city no longer organizes boat rides, visitors are welcome to canoe and kayak down the creek.
You can kayak or canoe down the creek — Photo courtesy of City of Palm Bay
But what the sanctuary is most known for is its birds. Bird-watchers love the estimated 25 different species of small warblers.
“For an Audubon birder, this is heaven,” Johnson says.
Beyond that, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, skunks, wild turkeys, bobcats, gulf tortoises, many manatees and the occasional wild hog also live here.
“It is a little green postage stamp jammed in the midst of suburban Palm Bay,” Johnson says. “It’s a nice respite to get off the streets. It’s quiet, full of wild animals.”
His goal is to keep it that way, too. He says he works hard to keep the grounds clear of exotic plants and as authentic and natural as it looked back when the land was first discovered. That means there are no plans to install toilets, lights on the boardwalk or a refreshment stand. This sanctuary is about getting away. It’s solitude, he says.
Relax at Turkey Creek — Photo courtesy of City of Palm Bay
Johnson says Turkey Creek Sanctuary is to Palm Bay what Central Park is to Manhattan.
“I think Turkey Creek helps give Palm Bay an identity,” he says.
The Turkey Creek Sanctuary is free to access, courtesy of the City of Palm Bay, and it's open seven days a week.
The City of Palm Bay occasionally organizes educational events — Photo courtesy of City of Palm Bay