Photos provided by Bass Pro Shop
For those who haven’t been in a Bass Pro Shop Palm Bay, it is more like a museum or monument to outdoor recreation than a retail outlet.
The location in Palm Bay is strategic regionally, with visibility from I-95 and, according to store manager James C. King, Bass Pro routinely attracts customers within a 70-plus mile radius. But of equal importance, it is also located just a few miles north of Stick Marsh, which is for bass fishermen what the Augusta National or Pebble Beach is to golfers. When the grand opening was held in December 2013, thousands turned a normally sedate event into what seemed like a rock concert. In that first month, over 150,000 customers visited the retail outlet.
For Palm Bay Mayor William Capote and other civic leaders, both public and private, making Palm Bay a destination for ecotourism has been a goal they have worked on for years. But the catalyst was the unforeseen consequence of building huge holding ponds to catch storm water run-off from the farms and ranches in the southern end of Brevard County, which drain into the St. Johns River.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Biologist Dustin Everitt explained that the St. Johns Water Management District built levies enclosing approximately
6,700 acres back in 1987 (3,000 in Stick Marsh and 3,700 in the Farm 13 Reservoir). But because they simply flooded the acreage and didn’t clear the land, the foliage that was left produced what Dustin described as “New Reservoir Syndrome.” For the uninitiated, this existing topography and decaying organic matter result in a breeding ground for bass and other freshwater game fish. For the first couple of years, it was closed to fishing, but as word spread of anglers catching countless trophy-size fish, the dam of fishermen (not levies) simply burst.
Its success as a filtering tool for the St. Johns River, as well as being a recreational bonanza, has spurred the creation of additional marshlands which will eventually create over 25,000 acres available for freshwater fishing. As Dustin said, “It is good recreationally; it is good environmentally; and it is good economically.”
Florida is a logical spot when you consider the number of people who enjoy outdoor sports in our region and the over 1.2 million out-of-state visitors who come to Florida for the hunting and fishing opportunities each year.
The old Florida Cracker-style store is complete with a front porch area, tin roof and laid back Florida style seating. At the entrance you will find a swamp buggy, many different styles and sizes of ATV’s and a fleet of boats. Hand-painted murals from renowned artists depict scenes from the beaches, coastlines, forests and swamps that are all part of the great Florida heritage including depictions of Mosquito Lagoon, Lake Toho, Sebastian Inlet, Lake Washington and The Stick Marsh.
State and record wildlife mounts are also displayed alongside local historical prints featuring early tourists and residents enjoying all types of sporting adventures. Take note of the giant Deuce and a-half Army truck that is situated inside the expansive lobby area.
Many different kinds of native fish are in the 16,000 gallon aquarium. Everything from Large and Small Mouth Bass, Reds, Crappy, Bowfin and Catfish. This is no ordinary aquarium; the three running waterfalls and natural wildlife among the boulders are sure to create an action packed visit. Watch the pros demonstrate some of the new products and their effectiveness, techniques and much more while they feed the fish every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
“Bass Pro is a destination; we offer a constant array of hunting and fishing classes. Before the building is designed, we have a team that photographs the area and these become the murals that you see painted around the store. All are hand painted and every store is unique,” said James C. King.
Bass Pro Shops
750 Bass Pro Drive NE, Palm Bay
(321) 674-3700 | BassPro.com
This article appears in the June 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Living.
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