Hiking Disney’s Wilderness Preserve!

The Nature Conservancy's The Disney Wildnerness Preserve

The Nature Conservancy’s The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Welcome to the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve!

Disney Wilderness Preserve

Disney Wilderness Preserve

The core of The Disney Wilderness Preserve is comprised of what was once an 8,500-acre cattle ranch situated at the head of the Everglades watershed. In the early 1990s, the ranch was slated for extensive development which would have destroyed wetlands found on the site. Walt Disney World in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy purchased the property to offset further development of the Walt Disney World Resort. The purchase is considered to be one of the earliest and largest off-site wetland mitigation projects in the United States.

The Disney Wilderness Preserve

The Disney Wilderness Preserve

An additional 3,000 acres were added in 1995 by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority to help mitigate ongoing expansion at the airport bringing the Disney Wilderness Preserve to its current size. Today the Disney Wilderness preserve consists of 12,000 acres including an estimated 4,000 acres of enhanced wetlands

Healthy Central Florida Ecosystem

Central Florida Ecosystem

The Disney Wilderness Preserve provides habitat for an estimated 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including:

The Wilderness Trail Virtual Tour

Disney Wilderness Preserve Trail Map

Click Here for the DWP Trail Map

As the winter of 2013-2014 has been especially harsh, it’s time to take a virtual tour somewhere where it is always green: Central Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve! Let’s go!

Disney Wilderness Preserve Nature Center

Disney Wilderness Preserve Nature Center

Before we start our walk, let’s head inside the visitor center to check out the displays and sign in (we’ll need to sign out too).

Wilderness Trail Entrance

Wilderness Trail Entrance

Heading northeast, we see a sign for the Wilderness Trail entrance. Let’s not fool ourselves, the paved sidewalk will end soon.

Nature Conservancy Trail Blaze

Nature Conservancy Trail Blaze

The blazes we will be following have the Nature Conservancy logo.

Disney Wildnerness Preserve Pond

Disney Wildnerness Preserve Pond

Walking northeast from the visitor center a scenic pond appears to our right. Let’s pause a moment to see if there is anything poking around.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Take a look! There’s a Wood Stork!  Found throughout Florida, the Wood Stork’s preferred habitat includes grasslands and wetlands. The Wood Stork rookery found in the Disney Wilderness Preserve is thought to be the most studied in the world.

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

Straight ahead of us is a unique stand of trees known as a Cypress Dome. A Cypress Dome are dominated by Pond Cypress and Tupelo trees among other species.  Pond Cypress trees are often tallest in the center of the Cypress Dome which gives the appearance of a dome when viewed from a distance hence its name. Heading southeast for the next .27 of a mile the Cypress Dome will appear to our right. After walking .27, the trail splits heading straight and to the right. If we turn right, the trail will take us back to the nature center. I don’t think we are ready to quit just yet, we just got started! Let’s continue straight.

Lake Russell This Way

Lake Russell This Way

Continuing straight another estimated .10 of a mile we see a sign directing us  to the Lake Russell Trail. Let’s take it!

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss

As we walk towards the swamp forest surrounding Lake Russell, something dangling above our heads catches our eyes. It’s Spanish Moss, which is not really a moss at all but rather a flowering plant!

But wait, there’s something else dangling above our heads….

Massive Spider

Massive Golden Silk Spider

A massive Golden Silk Spider! Let’s keep moving!

The estimated .14 of a mile trail takes us through a dense Cypress Wetland Forest which surrounds the lake on all sides (a rare sight in Central Florida!)

Cypress Wetland Forest Surrounding Lake Russell

Cypress Wetland Forest Surrounding Lake Russell

The Cypress has a lifespan of hundreds of years and is found throughout the wetlands of the Disney Wilderness Preserve.

Lake Russell

Lake Russell

What a view! Beautiful Lake Russell is fed by Reedy Creek which is part of the northernmost Headwaters of the Everglades.

Savannah

Savannah

Heading back out through the swamp forest we find ourselves in the open savannah of the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem. Once estimated covering around 90 million acres in the southeastern United States, the Longleaf Pine ecosystem is now reduced to around an estimated two million acres, most of which is found on private land. The Longleaf Pine thrives on poor sandy soils.

Snag

Snag

The Longleaf Pine ecosystem is associated with natural fires which occur naturally every two to four years. Naturally occurring fires reduce the amount of litter on the ground which provides breathing room for Longleaf Pine seeds to germinate. Due to the surrounding development, controlled fires are conducted at the Disney Wilderness Preserve as this burned snag demonstrates. The endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, whose primary habitat is found in the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem, was successfully reintroduced in 2007 in the Disney Wilderness Preserve.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

As we walk we know the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is present but we do not see any today. But look up! A Palm Warbler is watching us from its perch.

Saw Palmetto

Saw Palmetto

Saw Palmetto, found all around us, is a common understory plant of the Disney Wilderness Preserve. This tough plant is one of the first to send up new leaves within a week or two after a forest fire.

Shrub Oak

Shrub Oak

Occasionally as we walk a tall shrub appears. This shrub is Scrub Oak. Without frequent fire, Scrub Oak would form dense thickets preventing the establishment of Longleaf Pine.

Trail through Longleaf Pine Savannah

Trail through Longleaf Pine Savannah

Whew! It’s getting hot. Let’s keep our mind off the heat for a moment and think about a bird found in the Disney Wilderness Preserve which is present but we do not spot during our walk. The bird in reference is the  Florida Scrub-Jay, classified as threatened under the endangered species act and is the only bird endemic to Florida.

Pond2

Like a mirage in the distant, the pond we passed when we first started out is ahead and the trail has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed our virtual tour of the Disney Wilderness Preserve and that it inspires you to visit it for yourself!

Address & Contact Information

The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve
2700 Scrub Jay Trail
Kissimmee, FL 34759
Phone: (407) 935-0002
Ferns
Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
For more Information on the Disney Wilderness Preserve Check out the Attached!
Ecology Books!
Highlighting the efforts of nine extraordinary leaders, Nature’s Keepers examines the organization’s culture and management, strategy and decisions, and courageous and ingenious individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation. Click Here for more information!
Introduces readers to the trees and plants, insects, mammals, reptiles, and other species that live in Florida’s unique wetlands ecosystem, including the Virginia iris, American white waterlily, cypress, treefrogs, warblers, and the Florida black bear. Click Here for more information!
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About NJUrbanForest

Love to explore, photograph and learn about NJ (and NY) urban forests

12 responses to “Hiking Disney’s Wilderness Preserve!”

  1. David says :

    Great article. I did not know about this area and now can’t wait to explore it!

  2. Janice says :

    Definitely a place I would like to explore. I loved the spider but don’t think I would like to get in his way!! You always make your blog very intriguing!

  3. CEK says :

    Wow, I as not expecting to be back in Florida! We spent many years there and it was good to go back and see familiar birds, plants and even spiders.

    Thank you for the visit.

  4. DeedeeBurnside says :

    Nice!!

  5. Mary says :

    We’re planning on visiting tomorrow, weather-permitting. What insect repellant do you recommend? Thank you!

  6. James Kelley says :

    How long is the trail and what is it’s estimated time of of completion by foot ?

    • NJUrbanForest says :

      Hey James, thanks for writing! The Wilderness Trail is about 2.45 Miles. It takes an estimated two hours (depending how fast you want to walk through it).

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