VERO BEACH - On July 5, Indian River County opened the new 84-acre Osprey Acres Stormwater Park and Nature Preserve, just east of Oslo Middle School.
The land was purchased to increase the capacity of the county’s stormwater treatment system while also providing recreational opportunities and a protection against overdevelopment.
The property was originally planned for more than 400 homes. Now it will be a blend of natural Florida ecosystems “including uphill pine, mesic oak hammock, a small scrub area, and now manmade wetlands,” according to a sign posted at the park. “Having these various habitats promotes a wealth of biodiversity within the property.”
The property includes five hiking trails: a 1.8 mile main trail, two .6 mile trails called Marsh Rabbit Run and Bobcat Run, and two .4 mile trails called Woodpecker Way and Gopher Tortoise Trail.
Osprey Acres’ five hiking trails total 3.8 miles. “You Are Here” maps and wildlife information signs are provided in multiple locations.
The Indian River Lagoon Council applauded the project, which was designed by county staff.
“It will treat approximately 12 million gallons per day of effluent from Osprey Marsh Algal Turf Scrubber as well as untreated canal water,” the council said. “The project is estimated to remove over 300 pounds of total phosphorus and over 3,700 pounds of total nitrogen per year. As one of the last large, relatively undisturbed upland areas remaining in Indian River County, it will provide a nature preserve for wildlife.”
According to County Administrator Jason Brown, the project cost $7.4 million, of which $3.6 million came from St. Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Legislature, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Most of the property is a dedicated nature preserve and is home to an abundance of native wildlife,” said a statement received from Mr. Brown. “As the planted aquatic portions of the preserve and treatment areas mature, they will become havens for many waterfowl and aquatic animals.”
The St. Johns River Water Management District approved a permit for the park in 2016.
“Osprey Acres will support a district core mission by improving water quality through nutrient reduction,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Osprey Acres also supports another core mission, protecting natural systems, by preserving more than 60 acres of uplands and creating roughly 17 acres of aquatic habitat for fish and waterfowl.”
The county says Osprey Acres will aide in the treatment of stormwater and reverse osmosis reject water before that water can enter the Indian River Lagoon. The water to be treated at Osprey Acres will come from both the Osprey Marsh Treatment Facility adjacent to the new park, and untreated canal water.
The SJRWMD says Osprey Acres “will be a secondary nutrient removal system for Indian River County’s Osprey Marsh, a treatment facility that removes dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients from 10 million gallons of water daily from the Indian River Farms Water Control District South Relief Canal and up to 1.5 million gallons a day of reverse osmosis demineralization concentrate from the South County Water Treatment Plant.”
“Special treatment cells and a constructed serpentine floway not only filters the surface water, removing nutrients that could have caused harmful algal growth in the lagoon, but now also provide essential wetland habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects, up to 45 % of which are rare and endangered,” reads the park’s welcome sign.
To promote the presence of many animal species, no dogs are allowed in the park other than service animals. Smoking and bicycles are also prohibited.
There are no restrooms or water fountains available, so visitors are urged to bring water to stay hydrated.
Osprey Acres Stormwater Park and Nature Preserve is located at 925 5th St. SW, east of Oslo Middle School. Park hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m., seven days a week.
To schedule a free guided tour, call (772) 226-1565.