St. Lucie County, located in the heart of Florida’s Treasure Coast, is a place of remarkable natural assets, including twenty-one miles of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River Lagoon, which hosts some of the best fishing in the nation, the St. Lucie River and the enormous freshwater marsh system known as the Savannas. These places provide an opportunity to maintain a high quality of life for residents and that attracts people to the County to live and play.
The Environmental Resources Departments role in ecotourism is to help provide the framework of natural areas, greenways & trails, paddling trails and nature centers for its citizens and tourists to enjoy and the responsible, private sector ecotourism related businesses to utilize.
What is Ecotourism?
Environmentally responsible travel and visitation to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples. The resource and its protection is a higher priority than satisfying the public demand for ecotourism.
The lands and waters that ERD manages are full of recreational opportunities and improvements currently underway on SLC’s natural areas, and along our paddling trails and greenways & trails, focusing on enhancing the visitor’s experience by providing consistent, recognizable signage, passive recreational amenities, picnic facilities, additional and improved launch and stop over capacity for paddling trail users, and composting restrooms, as well as, educational materials within our kiosks, brochures and laminated field guides. It is our intent to coordinate with other County Departments and outside agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection, to plan and provide a comparable experience on their properties.
Since citizens approved a $20 million bond referendum in 1996, the County has more than tripled the initial funding through local, state and federal matches and partnerships, to purchase, enhance and manage over 12,000 acres of preserves. These preserves provide passive recreational opportunities and are a critical part of the County’s ecotourism. The Environmentally Resources Department manages over 11,000 acres, distributed throughout 27 sites. Each preserve offers a wide array of passive recreation amenities ranging from nature trails to disc golf courses. SLC preserves are managed for the conservation, protection, and enhancement of natural resources, and for public outdoor recreation and education.
Greenways & Trails
Greenways are areas of green that can range from large preserves, to small parks, to other natural features, such as waterways. Trails are linear corridors that connect people to green spaces. Trails can range from small foot paths through natural areas, to large paved corridors that link communities to each other, as well as to schools, urban centers, and community centers. St. Lucie County has a planned system of over 85 miles of trails intended to tie together the natural areas and communities providing an alternate mode of transportation as well as recreation.
The waterways of St. Lucie County provide an unparalleled amenity for residents and visitors alike, providing access, recreational opportunities, and a scenic backdrop for upland activities. ERD is developing improvements on our preserves along the Ten Mile Creek, the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, and the Indian River Lagoon.
The Ten Mile Creek/North Fork Paddling Trail extends from the western most headwaters (west of McCarty Rd.) to the confluence with the St. Lucie Inlet (at Club Med). ERD manages 11 preserves abutting the TMC/NF corridor.
The Indian River Lagoon is North America’s most diverse estuary with more than 4,300 species of plants and animals including 35 that are listed as threatened or endangered — more than any other estuary in North America. The Lagoon varies in width from .5 to 5 miles and averages 4 feet in depth. It serves as a spawning and nursery ground for many different species of oceanic and lagoon fish and shellfish. The lagoon also has one of the most diverse bird populations anywhere in America. The IRL Paddling Trail extends the entire length of SLC meandering along the western shoreline of the barrier island, winding around the spoil islands, and the shoreline of the mainland. ERD manages 4 preserves abutting the IRL corridor.