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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 Comment with Questions, 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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Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve!


Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve

Welcome to a virtual tour of the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve!

Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve

The 147 acre preserve consists of three bodies of water (lagoon, upper lake and lower pond) deciduous wooded wetlands and wooded upland habitat. The Borough of Franklin Lakes purchased the land in 2006 from the Borough of Haledon for $6.5 million using funding from Green Acres and the Bergen County Open Space Fund. The preserve was open to the public in June of 2011.

Upper Lake

The 75 acre Upper Lake is the centerpiece of the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve and is an extremely popular fishing spot. The Upper Lake, created from the impoundment of the Molly Ann Brook in 1919, provided water to Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park. The Molly Ann Brook is the last tributary of the Passaic River before the Great Falls in Paterson.

Trails

Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve Trail Map

The Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve features 2 primary hiking trails. Access is available from Ewing Avenue, a small parking lot off of High Mountain Road and from nearby High Mountain Park Preserve’s Red Trail via Reservoir Drive and crossing High Mountain Road.

Shoreline Loop Trail

The main trail is the 1.5 mile white blazed Shoreline Loop Trail which encircles the entire Upper Lake and Lagoon.

Shoreline Loop Trailhead on Upper Lake Dam

Starting from the parking area, the trail heads over the dam separating the Upper Lake from the small pond to the south. The trail follows alongside the Upper Lake and near High Mountain Road and Ewing Avenue.

Island Bridges Trail

The western portion of the Island Bridges Trail is accessible near where the Shoreline Loop Trail passes by Waterview Drive.

High Mountain as seen from the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve

Beautiful views of the Upper Lake with High Mountain visible can be seen from this area. After exploring the western section of the Island Bridges Trail (the Island Bridges Trail is about a half a mile in length) head back to the  Shoreline Loop  trail which will briefly exit the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve near an outflow from a neighboring swamp (you can also continue via two floating bridges on the Island Bridges Trail to continue to the eastern side of the Shoreline Loop Trail skipping the entire northern section).

Backwater Lagoon crossing

Backwater Lagoon crossing

Once the Shoreline Loop Trail enters back into the preserve, the trail crosses backwater of the lagoon.

Molly Ann Brook Crossing

Molly Ann Brook Crossing

Continuing on the trail you will cross the Molly Ann Brook over a wooden bridge. Frogs can be heard (and sometimes seen) splashing into the water here during the warmer months.

From here, the Shoreline Loop Trail heads east near a church and near the High Mountain Golf Club (2014 update: High Mountain Golf Club has been sold and will soon be a housing development) which is visible through the trees.

High Mountain Golf Course

Along the way, the trail comes across a basalt beach.

Basalt Beach

Basalt was  formed when molten lava extruded out of the earth’s surface and cooled rapidly. Basalt is found in nearby High Mountain Park Preserve which is situated on the 2nd Watchung Mountain. Once past the basalt beach, the trail turns south. The eastern section of the Island Bridges Trail is accessible from this point.

Island Bridges Trail

Island Bridges Trail (East)

After exploring the eastern section of the Island Bridges Trail, head back to the Shoreline Loop trail and continue south until the trail terminates near a picnic area in a pine grove near where the trail began. 2014 Update: Please Note that new Accessible Trails have been constructed in this area and intersect with Shoreline Loop Trail. The Accessible Trails will remain unblazed and are not currently maintained by the NYNJ Trail Conference.

Preserve Shoreline Loop Trailend

NYNJ Trail Conference has blazed and will maintain both the Shoreline Loop and Island Bridges Trails.  A trail map of the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve is available on the NYNJ Trail Conference website here.

Flora

Flora found at the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve includes the below among others:

American Beech

Gray Birch

Paper Birch

Skunk Cabbage

Trout Lily

Fauna

Fauna that I’ve spotted at the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve includes:

Palm Warbler

Canada Goose

Canada Goose Eggs

American Robin

Tufted Titmouse

Cedar Waxwing

Eastern Chipmunk

Directions

This preserve is a great place to explore and just relax. Directions are listed below (as taken from the NYNJ Trail Conference Website)

Take N.J. Route 208 to the Ewing Avenue exit in Franklin Lakes. Turn left at the end of the ramp (if coming from the west, turn right) and continue for about two miles until Ewing Avenue ends at High Mountain Road. Turn left onto High Mountain Road and continue past a lake and a smaller pond on the left. In 0.5 mile, at the end of the smaller pond, you will see a small brown sign for the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve on the left. Turn left into a driveway, passing old reservoir buildings on the right, then turn left again at a sign for parking and continue to a parking area just below the dam.

Note: Part of the preserve, including the entrance and parking, is in North Haledon (Passaic County). The address for the preserve is 1196 High Mountain Road, North Haledon, N.J. 07508

Feel free to e-mail NJUrbanForest at NJUrbanForest@gmail.com with any comments, memories or suggestion! Thank you and have fun exploring!

Great Hiking/Ecology Books:

1. 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: New York City: Including northern New Jersey, southwestern Connecticut, and western Long Island – Packed with valuable tips and humorous observations, the guide prepares both novices and veterans for the outdoors. From secluded woods and sun-struck seashores, to lowland swamps and rock-strewn mountain tops, this practical guidebook contains all the information needed to have many great hikes in and around New York City.

Click here for more information!

2. Take a Hike New York City: 80 Hikes within Two Hours of Manhattan – In Moon Take a Hike New York City, award-winning writer Skip Card shows you the best hikes in and around The Big Apple—all within two hours of the city.

Click here for more information!

3. Eastern Deciduous Forest, Second Edition: Ecology and Wildlife Conservation – This book is a useful tool for anyone who wants to know or hopes to help one of North America’s great natural resources.

Click here for more information!

4. Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State – With people as its focus, Protecting New Jersey’s Environment explores the science underpinning environmental issues and the public policy infighting that goes undocumented behind the scenes and beneath the controversies.

Click here for more information!

5. Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State:

Wild New Jersey invites readers along Wheeler’s whirlwind year-long tour of the most ecologically diverse state for its size in America.

Click here for more information!

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