Many vacation destinations require sprawling day-long expeditions to truly enjoy an area’s diverse natural beauty. But for folks staying on St. George Island, a quick drive to the north side of the SGI Bridge reveals the second-largest estuarine research reserve system in the United States.
The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Nature Center — or ANERR, as the locals call it — features more than 1,300 species of plants, 131 species of fish, and 50 species of mammals within 246,000 acres nestled along Apalachicola Bay.
It’s great for nature lovers who enjoy sightseeing, and the more curious who want to learn more about the environment around them.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, ANERR features winding paths that incorporate pine flat woods, oak hammocks and freshwater marshes where cattails and sawgrass grow wild. It is a photographer’s dream with a variety of scenery at every turn, especially near Millender Park, a prime picnic area with views of Apalachicola Bay and the volunteer-made breakwater area.
There are signs posted to keep a lookout for black bears, and while it may be a rare occurrence to actually see one, it should give you an idea of how diverse the wildlife found in ANERR is.
The reserve’s Nature Center features 18,000 square feet of learning space including two working wet and dry research laboratories. It overlooks the Cat Point oyster bar, which is one of the most productive oyster bars in Apalachicola Bay. At low tide, tidal flats and parts of oyster reefs are exposed.
In the Education Center, there are three large water tanks representing the river, bay and gulf habitats found in the Apalachicola area. Each tank holds more than 1,000 gallons and houses a variety of native plant life and creatures.
For more than a century, Apalachicola and Eastpoint have been working waterfronts, fostering generations of fishermen whose industries have only been sustainable due to the health and productivity of Apalachicola Bay. The Education Center focuses on that aspect of local history, with exhibits showing the evolution of oyster industry, and more. A beautiful, 80-foot mural is also on display, depicting area ecosystems.
One of ANERR’s signature events revolves around National Estuaries Day each September. Activities include free, fun and educational stations for kids and adults including marine animal touch tanks, and estuary-themed games including Microplastic Match-Up, Reptile Round-Up and Pin the Tag on the Monarch. In addition to this, there are educational events held year-round.
ANERR is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and for more information call 850-670-7700 or visit apalachicolareserve.com.