25155 Wheeler Road, Christmas 32709
Hours: Daily, January 21 to September 30 only, sunrise to sunset
Location: East on SR 50, then left on CR 420 (Ft. Christmas Road); go 2.3 miles and turn right onto Wheeler Road
Tucked away on the far eastern fringes of Orlando is an ingenious combination of the practical and the aesthetic. To the untrained eye, the “Iron Bridge Easterly Wetlands” that comprise this park look like a preserved sliver of the “real” Florida. It is, in fact, part of the City of Orlando’s wastewater treatment system. Every day, 16 million gallons of highly treated reclaimed wastewater from parts of Orange and Seminole counties are pumped into this 1,650-acre, man-made wetlands where aquatic plants continue the process of removing nutrients as the water slowly makes its way to the St. John’s River. If visions of open sewers spring to mind, banish them. The result is enchanting, combining open fields, gently rolling woods, a small lake, and a thick forest.
In the parking area, go to the wooden announcement board. There you can sign in (don’t forget to sign out!) and pick up a park map and a Field Checklist of Birds. The best way to get acquainted with the park is to walk (or jog) the four-mile “walk/jog loop.” If you’d like, you can veer off onto a more primitive hiking trail through the woods; it eventually rejoins the main trail. The map thoughtfully points out the best bird-watching spots along the park’s 20 miles of raised roads. More than 150 species frequent the park. The Checklist lists them and the seasons in which they visit and notes whether they are common, uncommon, or rare.
Biking is permitted on the berm roads and there is a sheltered picnic area in a broad grassy area near the parking lot. The Florida Trail skirts the property, allowing serious hikers to extend their explorations. The Orlando Wetlands Park is a bit out of the way (it is about a 40-minute drive east of the city), but a visit will reward bird watchers and those looking for a more exciting jogging trail than the motel parking lot.
Nearby: Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge, Fort Christmas Historical Park, Jungle Adventures, Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area.
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