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Welcome to the Nature Conservancy’s 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.
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.
The Disney Wilderness Preserve provides habitat for an estimated 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including:
- Crested Caracara
- Florida Panther
- Marsh Rabbit
- River Otter
- Nine-banded Armadillo
- Sherman’s Fox Squirrel
- Sandhill Crane
- Gopher Tortoises
- Bald Eagle
- Southeastern Big-Eared Bat
The Wilderness Trail Virtual Tour
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!
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).
Heading northeast, we see a sign for the Wilderness Trail entrance. Let’s not fool ourselves, the paved sidewalk will end soon.
The blazes we will be following have the Nature Conservancy logo.
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.
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.
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.
Continuing straight another estimated .10 of a mile we see a sign directing us to the Lake Russell Trail. Let’s take it!
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….
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!)
The Cypress has a lifespan of hundreds of years and is found throughout the wetlands of the Disney Wilderness Preserve.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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
2700 Scrub Jay Trail
Kissimmee, FL 34759
Phone: (407) 935-0002
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