Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant who moved to the area now known as Indian River County in 1881, was fascinated by the abundant bird population he observed in the Indian River Lagoon. One spot in particular that held his interest was a small 5-acre island that contained an unusually large population of pelicans, egrets, ibis and other large waterfowl. This island was a major hunting area for traders interested in selling plumage taken from these large birds for use in hat making. Wanting to save the bird population, Mr. Kroegel began his own movement to stop the hunting of these birds at great risk to himself. Because of his efforts, this island, and the surrounding islands and submerged lands, was established by Teddy Roosevelt as the first wildlife refuge in the Country.
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, as it is now known, contains a mosaic of over 5,400 acres of wildlife habitat. The Refuge is designated as a National Historic Landmark, a Wetland of International Importance, and a candidate Marine Protected Area. The original holdings within the Refuge have expanded over time through acquisition efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Florida, and local government. Indian River County owns, or shares ownership, on approximately 200 acres within the refuge. The County works closely with the Service to ensure that management of the areas is targeted at maximizing the potential wildlife habitat. The conservation area is a designated as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail (www.FloridaBirdingTrail.com).
Guided tours of the Refuge are available (by reservation) every Wednesday from November through March. These tours are conducted by volunteer staff. Additionally, there are two observation towers and several miles of self-guided walking trails that are open to the public. For more information, please refer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pelican Island website: