I was surprised by something I had driven by on numerous occasions but didn’t really stop to look at. For years I have driven by the Deltona exits on I-4, not really understanding what adventures might await us there. I actually discovered the Lyonia Preserve and Environmental Center by accident. I read an article in the local paper about the Volusia County Environmental Management group hosting free guided hikes and tours of many local wildlife areas. I picked one at random that my schedule could accommodate and discovered Lyonia Preserve!
First let me explain a bit more about the location. The Lyonia preserve is actually a 360 acre plot of land that is located adjacent to the Deltona regional library and maintained by Volusia County Environmental Management. The preserve itself is easily accessed from the library parking lot. The environmental center is actually part of the library complex. The library seems to be a community focal point. On the Saturday I was able to visit, the entire area was bustling with people, volunteers, and visitors. The library is very impressive with a large collection of standard library fare and the outdoor ampitheatre really impressed me. I also found a great library vending machine that rivals any RedBox location that spits out books, DVDs, CDs and more! I would love to return during some of their community events. The environmental center is connected to the library and was a great capstone to a wonderful outdoor adventure.
Because I signed up for a free guided hike I arrived a bit early to snoop around the location. To my surprise we had about fifteen people joining us that morning. Now before you start thinking that I’m going on some sort of death march with my little guy in the August heat, I left him at home with my wife for this hike. After doing some research, I discovered that the hike was about a mile long, and was really more of an outdoor walk. If you’re worried you won’t make it, the pace and distance was actually very easy and took about an hour and a half. It is certainly not handicapped accessible though. Remember you are walking through a nature preserve.
Our hike guide Bonnie was amazing! She made a great effort to explain what the Lyonia Preserve is, the benefit the preserve provides, and was a great source of knowledge. When we set off on our mile or so long trek, I was pleased to find that we would be going off the beaten path. The Lyonia Preserve does have multiple marked trails that are a handfull of miles. However, since we were on a guided hike, we actually used quite a few of the fire breaks to navigate. It was a bit easier with such a large group and allowed us to experience a tour that isn’t generally opened to the public.
So what exactly should you expect to see at the Lyonia Preserve? The star of the show is certainly the scrub ecosystem and the Scrub Jay! This particular bird’s natural habitat is shrinking as Florida’s scrub ecosystems are becoming more of a rarity. While hiking the preserve, you’ll get to experience all sorts of plant life including mosses, pines, oaks, and more. We also saw quite a few critters! Although we didn’t get to meet any of the local tortoise inhabitants, we certainly found evidence they were there.
If you’re into hiking in general, you are welcome to come anytime, but to really appreciate the plant and wild life you may want to wait until the next guided hike. Bonnie knew information about almost every interesting plant we encountered.She was also able to share many personal and local stories about the preserve and its history. If you’re looking to plan a trip with your family you’ll want to consider the terrain before bringing very little ones. I would recommend waiting until they are able to walk on their own and to follow directions. Since you could encounter some not so friendly wild like such as snakes and spiders, as well as some plant life like stinging nettles you don’t want your little one running off. I would also wait until a cool fall or winter day in the morning for your experience. There is very little shade due to type of terrain you will be walking through, so be sure to wear hats, sunscreen, and bring your own water.
The Lyonia Preserve Environmental Center is a bit of a different story though. Located right there outside the preserve, the environmental center is handicapped accessible. It’s also air-conditioned! I was impressed while visiting the center for multiple reasons. For starters, most of the displays are hands on. My favorite display actually illustrated how Florida actually raised up from the ocean over the course of many years, and really gave a great visual of how it happened over time. Plan on at least twenty minutes to walk through he display area if you’re reading everything you encounter. By sharing the library facilities, they also host many nature talks and demonstrations as well. When I was there, they actually had a reptile talk scheduled. Because I had other plans that Saturday, I didn’t attend, but looked like there were quite a few people waiting for it to start.
There is a small gift shop located inside within the Lyonia Preserve Environmental Center which featured mostly educational items that you would generally find at a museum or science center. The reason I wanted to mention it though, is that they actually sell discounted rain barrels. They are actually the cheapest I have seen and are assembled by volunteers. The profits made on the barrels go straight to the environmental center so if you’re shopping for a cheap rain barrel, check them out. They also offer a complete calendar of events and the staff is available for questions.
Just a quick heads up about what you will not find at the Lyonia Preserve. While there are a few picnic tables under a pavilion, this is not a picnicking park. In fact, it’s not even really a park. You’re more than welcome to pack a lunch, especially if you’re hiking, but there are no picnic, grilling or other facilities. Since this is not a park, you won’t find a playground to tire the wee ones out. With a few exceptions of the occasional bench along the hiking trails, there are no facilities located within the preserve itself. There are however restrooms located within the library. There is also a small snack shop with what seemed to be reasonable prices, but I personally would not have been compelled to bring the family there for a dining experience, but maybe to enjoy some ice cream after a hike.
Lyonia Preserve & Environmental Center Details:
2150 Eustace Ave.
Deltona FL 32725
Mon. – Thurs. 9:30-7:30
Fri. & Sat. 9:30-5
I believe the preserve is actually open from sunrise to sunset, but you may only want to visit during library hours to be able to sue the facilities.