Florida's Big Bend Wildlife Refuges
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive
Crystal River, FL 34429
Located about 65 miles north of St. Petersburg, the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of over 31,000 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries and brackish marshes with a fringe of hardwood swamps along the eastern boundary. The northern boundary parallels and includes much of the Homosassa River. The Refuge extends southward across the scenic Chassahowitzka River for 12 miles to its southern boundary at Raccoon Point.
The Refuge was established in 1943 primarily to benefit waterfowl in an area long famous as a wintering area for ducks and coots. Today, although waterfowl numbers in south Florida have declined, the Refuge has become increasingly important for the endangered West Indian manatees which utilize many of the Refuge's tidal bays, creeks and rivers.
Chassahowitzka is unspoiled estuarien habitate along Florida's west coast that serves as important breeding and feeding ground for marine life. Shallow bays support an abundant growth of muskgrass which provides food for various birds and the endangered manatee. Inland from the bays are the brackish creeks and ponds where widgeongrass, watermilfoil and other foods grow in profusion. The eastern boundary provides a few thousand acres of swamp habitat where oaks, cypress and red cedar grow. The outer islands consist mainly of red and black mangrove which provides habitat for colonial birds.
Many species of birds, including cormorants, great blue herons, green-backed herons, ospreys, white pelicans, and various species of water fowl and songbirds have been observed on the Refuge.
Other animals inhabiting the refuge include numerous alligators and raccoons. River otters are seen occasionally exhibiting their aquatic skills. Deer, turkey, black bear, and predators such as the bobcat are occasional residents of the refuge.
Endangered and threatened species including nesting bald eagles, West Indian manatees, woodstorks, green turtles, Eastern indigo snakes and an occasional peregrine falcon are observed on the refuge.
The refuge provides a place for approximately 250 species of birds, over 50 speices of reptiles and amphibians and at least 25 different species of mammals. Because of this, visitors are likely to see a variety of animals duringf a journey thorugh the refuge.
Management objectives are oriented toward preserving and protecting the land and wildlife resources of the Refuge. This requires an active law enforcement program designed to prevent disturbance of wildlife populations and the destruction of habitat.
The entire state of Florida is a fire ecosyttem that has historically burned every three to ten years. Prescribed fire is used on the refuge to mimic the natural ire regime. This improves habitat and food availablity for several wildlife species including endangered and threatened species.
76% of the refuge is a designated Wilderness Area meaning land that will remain uninhabited and preserved in its natural state.
Visiting the Refuge
The refuge is only accessible by boat. Public boat ramps in the area of the refuge are limited, so visitors are advised to consult the enclosed map for the boat ramp access.
Because of the need to protect refuge lands and wildlife reosurces, special regulatins have been enacted. These regulations concern public access and use of the refuge.
Speed Zone: Between April 1 and August 31, special posted slow speed restrictions apply to portions of the Chassahowitzka River for the protection of manatees.
Airboat Use: Airboat use on the Refuge is restricted to Hernando County waters and posted routes. Operators are required to have a refuge airboat permit. Permits are issued from the Refuge headquarters.
Hunting: Hunt regulations apply to the refuge. Consult Refuge Manager for current regulations.
Firearms/weapons are prohibited on the Refuge except during designated hunts at which time firearms must be transported unloaded and encased or dismantled.
Fishing: County and State commercial/sport fishing regulations apply. Consult Florida Marine Patrol for current regulations.
Camping Camping is prohibited on the Refuge.
Fires Fires are prohibited on the Refuge.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication