By Jenny Diamond
It’s that time of year before the summer heat hits when the days are comfortably warm and breezy, and if you’re looking to get outside and do something different, consider visiting one of the many small farms, rescues and preserves in our area that offer fun and informative animal encounters and conservation education. Though the encounters and entertainment at these venues are primarily geared to appeal to kids, adults will enjoy these animal meet-and-greets as well! If you’re looking for a larger animal park, check out the Gulf Breeze Zoo, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and the Gulfarium. This is only a short list of encounters available within an hour of Pensacola, though there are plenty more!
Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center
8740 Gulf Blvd., #286
Navarre, FL 32566
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12-4 pm
The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC) is a 501(c) non-profit organization that seeks to educate visitors and beach-goers about endangered sea turtles. The resident turtle ambassador is Sweat Pea, a green sea turtle who was found tangled in fishing line and cannot be released because of injuries to her shell and flipper. Visitors can visit Sweet Pea’s pool, watch her swim and eat, hear her story from one of the center’s dedicated volunteers and visit the center’s other interactive exhibits about other sea turtle species, jellyfish and other sea life. One of NBSTCC’s new endeavors is Shark School, a class taught every other Saturday by Alex Fox, one of the center’s marine biologists. “We just want kids to know how awesome sharks are,” Fox said. Children enrolled in the class learn about Gulf Coast sharks, work on shark crafts and do a treasure hunt for their own shark teeth to take home. To sign up for Shark School or learn more about the Center, visit navarrebeachseaturtles.org.
Humming Star Alpacas
19700 Blueberry Ln.
Silverhill, AL 36576
This small family farm is home to a herd of huacaya alpacas who are raised for their soft, warm fleece (they get a summer haircut each year). Visitors can visit the alpacas’ barn, feed them hay and even pet a curious alpaca if one comes to say hello. The farm’s friendly Great Pyrenees-Golden Retriever mixes will appreciate a scratch behind the ears, and you may be lucky enough to spot the resident tortoise. The farm sells items made from the alpacas’ fleece, offers fleece crafting classes, accepts field trips and group visits and hosts alpaca yoga twice a month. Be sure to check the farm’s website at hummingstaralpacas.com and the Facebook page for updates and visiting hours as the field trips, classes and private bookings affect public hours.
Santa Rosa Ranch, LLC
4340 Hwy. 178
Jay, FL 32565
SRR is home to large herds of fallow and axis deer as well as a small petting zoo featuring horses, sheep and goats. Visitors can purchase feed for the petting zoo, and kids can enjoy the several large play areas, jungle gyms and zip line. When it’s time to go visit the deer, jump on the hayride and enjoy the view as you ride past several of the property’s fishing ponds to where the herds congregate. Visitors will have a chance to get off the hayride and feed the deer with food purchased onsite. The farm hosts several weekend events throughout the year like Fawntopia, Easter at the Ranch, Spring Fling, Fall Fish-Off, Home School day and a yearly 5k supporting breast cancer research. Visit the Santa Rosa Ranch LLC Facebook page for more information about visiting hours and special events.
19950 Highway 71
Summerdale, AL 36580
Hours: 10 – 5 pm daily
Admission: $12 adults, $10 children and seniors
Alligator Alley is a reptile-lover’s paradise. The park educates visitors about alligators at all stages of their growth, from hatchlings on up. Guests can purchase ‘nuggets’ to feed the young alligators and catch the live feedings of the bigger alligators throughout the day. An elevated boardwalk offers a shaded walk through the swamp with plenty of awesome alligator views. Keep an eye out for Crunch, one of the largest resident alligators who was relocated to Alligator Alley from Tallahassee after encroaching too close to a neighborhood. Stop by the “Wildlife Encounters” section of the park to hold a young alligator or snake, pet one of several free-roaming tortoises and visit Scarlett the Komodo Dragon. Check out gatoralleyfarm.com for more information.
Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park: Parrot Rescue and Sanctuary
9513 N. Palafox St.
Pensacola, FL 32534
Hours: Open Thursday – Monday 10 am-3 pm (opens at 1pm on Sundays)
Admission: $5 adults, $2 children
Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park is small non-profit park dedicated to providing sanctuary for exotic (and some not so exotic) birds whose owners were no longer able to care for them. The park houses more than 160 parrots of all kinds, four free-roaming peacocks, two emus, several chickens and a turkey. The Sanctuary is run entirely by volunteers and donations. Though the park is rustic, the brightly painted fencing, sidewalks and signs coupled with large banana trees and of course multiple bird calls give the place a slightly tropical feel. Visitors receive a cup of peanuts, apple slices and cooked pasta to feed the residents. The birds are excited to receive these treats, and visitors are taught how to safely feed the birds to avoid any bites. “We’re one of only three bird rescues in the country who do what we do,” said Reed Raulston, volunteer and member of the park’s board of directors. “Birds are very social; they like interactions with people. These birds have all been somebody’s pet, and they’re here through no fault of their own, and our goal is to give these birds a forever home. We just like people to come see them and enjoy.” Check out macawbirdpark.org for more information about the non-profit and the park’s founder Sandy Kirkconnell.