I will easily admit it: I love nature centers. From the smallest displays to the grandest exhibits, I adore learning about local ecosystems and how people have historically interacted with the natural resources around them. The William T. Kirby Nature Center at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park did not disappoint!
My friend Margaret and I said hello to the volunteer working at the front desk before entering the center’s main exhibit room. A large tank in the center acted as a real-life example of a mangrove stand. A replica of a wading bird looked out over the shallow water, where live fish swam among the tangled roots. Other tanks held different fish species, a giant lobster, and even sea turtles! From mangroves to marine to dune habitats, the center illustrated the main features of each ecosystem type, including the notable creatures and plants that depend on them.
In another room of the Nature Center, famous Florida artists displayed mounted paintings and various sculptures. I loved the colors James Hutchinson uses in his painted works, the pastel shades portraying mangrove forest, marine views, palm trees, and more. From the science in the previous exhibit to the artistic renderings of the landscape, I felt like I had a deeper appreciation for this area of Florida.
Of course, nothing beats exploring the outdoors in person! Margaret and I followed a 1,600-ft raised wooden boardwalk across Lake Worth Lagoon. Osprey dived for fish, while young men cast their rods from the banks. This is a park surrounded by urban life, and on the boardwalk we could easily see the upper floors of towers over the treetops.
The boardwalk is the main avenue to reach the beach. Families and friends walked or took advantage of the free trams. Benches and picnic tables acted as resting and lunch spots for those who wanted to enjoy the scenery a bit longer before hitting the sand. Climbing the wooden stairs across the dune, we were awarded with an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. Water glowed a light blue near the sandy shore before fading into a deeper hue as the water deepened.
From the Nature Center to the beach to the recreational opportunities like hiking and paddling, this park is truly a natural oasis in the middle of a bustling metropolis!
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.