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
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
The Disney Wilderness Preserve provides habitat for an estimated 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians including:
Welcome! Let’s take a virtual tour somewhere where it is always green: Central Florida’s Disney Wilderness Preserve! Let’s go!
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
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
The blazes we will be following have the Nature Conservancy logo.
Disney Wilderness 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.
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.
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!
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….
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 densely developed Central Florida!)
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.
What a view! Beautiful Lake Russell is fed by Reedy Creek which is part of the northernmost Headwaters of the Everglades.
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.
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.
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
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 Herefor more information!
Feel free to Comment with Questions, Memories or Suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!
Teaneck Creek Conservancy (TCC) is a 46 acre urban forested wetland located in Teaneck, NJ. The park is bordered to the north by Fycke Lane, DeGraw Avenue to the south, Teaneck Road to the west and Teaneck Creek to the east. The park is owned by Bergen County and managed by the Teaneck Creek Conservancy.
Teaneck Creek Conservancy
TCC was founded in 2001 by the Puffin Foundation after red survey flags were found on the woodland in back of the building at 20 Puffin Way in Teaneck, NJ. After discovering that the property was owned by the County of Bergen, TCC signed a long term licensing agreement with the county to allow it to develop the property into a park. The conservancy applied and received $500,000 from NJ Green Acres, $450,000 from Bergen County Parks Department and Open Space Trust Fund, $50,000 from the Puffin Foundation and $300,000 from the NJ Wetlands Mitigation Council to form trails, site improvements and wetland hydrology analysis. Teaneck Creek Conservancy became part of Bergen County’s Overpeck Park in July of 2004 and opened up to the public on May 7, 2006.
The conservancy has created a natural masterpiece by blending the perfect mixture of artwork with nature. The Puffin Sculpture Park greets you as soon as you arrive in the parking lot of the Puffin Cultural Forum.
Puffin Sculpture Park
Example of Artwork found in Puffin Sculpture Garden
More Artwork found in Puffin Sculpture Garden
Artwork may appear around the corner on any of TCC’s nature trails such as this wooden turtle (carved from a Black Locust tree trunk) which may be found on the blue trail or this wooden rabbit found near Dragonfly Pond off of the Red Trail.
There are two tributaries of Teaneck Creek found in the conservancy.
Tributary stream confluence with Teaneck Creek
95% of Teaneck Creek’s watershed is urban which causes flash hydrology during storm events. Flash hydrology consists of the rapid movement of water through Teaneck’s storm system into Teaneck Creek, followed by a rapid elevation of water height, accelerated water flows and then a rapid return to low flow water levels. Flash hydrology can destabilize the stream channel by erosion of the stream banks.
Despite Teaneck Creek’s poor water quality due to non-point source pollution, the creek and surrounding wetlands and woodlands host a large diversity of wildlife. Wildlife that have been observed at TCC include:
The 46 acres which comprise Teaneck Creek Conservancy experienced degradation from dumping and filing of debris in the 1960’s during construction of the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 80. The dumping of debris caused degradation in TCC’s wetlands by cutting off the historic hydrology to Teaneck Creek causing the wetlands to act more as a perched bog rather than a functioning riparian wetland. A Conceptual Wetland Restoration Plan was developed for the preserve after three years of study by Rutgers University, United States Geologic Survey and TRC Omni. The restoration plan essentially breaks the 46 acres into four sections (Section A, B, C & D). Each section will have its own restoration plan based upon existing soil, vegetation and hydrology.
A, B, C & D Restoration Areas
Section A consists of 9 acres and is located in the northeastern section of the preserve near Fycke Lane. Section A consists of the highest quality forested wetlands remaining in Teaneck Creek Conservancy. Analysis of the soil indicates that the 9 acres have remained unchanged for the past two to three hundred years. The goal for this area is to maintain the existing conditions and protect the 9 acres from future negative environmental impacts that may occur.
Section B, at 15 acres is located in the heart of the Teaneck Creek Conservancy. A prominent feature of Section B is a body of water known as Dragonfly Pond whose water comes directly from storm water runoff from nearby Teaneck Road.
Dragonfly pond is surrounded by large stands of Common Reed. The goal for Section B is to leave existing stands of Common Reed near the pond and prevent its spread by planting native shade trees. Common Reed, though invasive, is useful in removing excess nutrients and sequestering contaminants from water. In addition, given the source of water for Dragonfly Pond, the area is prone to drought conditions in the summer months. Under drought conditions, obligate wetland plants such as Skunk Cabbage cannot survive.
While invasive plants such as Garlic Mustard and Mile-a-Minute Vine are found throughout Teaneck Creek Conservancy’s 46 acres, they are especially plentiful in the 14 acre Section C and 8 acre section D.
Mile-a-minute-weed and 1st year Garlic Mustard rosettes
Section C and D are located in the southeast and southwest section of the park respectively. These areas of the park historically received the largest amount of disturbance during the construction of Route 80 and the NJ Turnpike. The soil consists primarily of debris. Only pockets of native vegetation remain in the 8 acre section D. The restoration plan for section D indicates that 5-6 acres will be clear cut and reconfigured into a series of freshwater wetlands. 3 upland native wooden acres will be spared. In Section C, a large clay berm was constructed in past wetland management efforts to help stem flooding from Teaneck Creek. Restoration efforts call for the clay berm to be broken so that water will be able to flow and pool creating new freshwater wetland habitat naturally.
It is hoped that 20 new forested freshwater wetlands will be created from the Conceptual Wetland Restoration Plan for the Teaneck Creek Conservancy.
Mallards on Teaneck Creek
Teaneck Creek Conservancy features 3 trails. All trails are nearly flat. Blazes are created in the shape of a turtle and are colored and numbered. Trail maps are available near the entrance by the parking lot for the Puffin Cultural Forum. Click here for a map of Teaneck Creek Conservancy from the Teaneck Creek Conservancy website.
The handicapped accessible .65 of a mile red trail traverses the preserve from DeGraw Avenue to Fycke Lane. Starting from the Puffin Cultural Parking lot, the red trail leaves the parking lot heading down wooden stairs where artwork known as “Migration Milestones” showcases pictures of migratory birds and facts.
Red Knot Migration Milestone
This information is all carved on old cement which was previously dumped in the conservancy during construction of the intersection of nearby I-80 and I-95.
Silver Maple Red Trail
From here, the red trail heads north or south. Heading south, the red trail passes upland forest to the east which contains a big Silver Maple with a label near blaze R2.
Bergen County Audubon Society Butterfly Garden (before its official opening)
The idea for the garden came about in the fall of 2011 and funding from the Bergen County Audubon and National Audubon Society helped make the dream a reality. Native plants such as Swamp Milkweed, Buttonbush, Ironweed and Spicebush among others were planted for a two fold purpose. The first is to provide habitat for butterflies to lay eggs and for their caterpillars to eat. The second purpose is to provide nectar sources for butterflies. It is hoped other species of wildlife will be attracted to the butterfly garden as well.
The butterfly garden marks the first time native plants have intentionally been planted to replace invasive species at TCC.
Updated Green Trail as of July 2012 (circled area)
Heading closer to DeGraw Avenue, a new section (as of July 2012) of Green trail appears to the northeast. Turning back north, the red trail retraces its steps and heads back to the entrance of the TCC. A little north of the main entrance, the red trail comes to a “T” near blaze R4. Turning left (west) this section of the red trail heads to Puffin Place and the Blue Trail.
Teaneck Creek Conservancy
Heading east, the red trail comes to blaze R5 with upland forest to the south and dense scrub shrub land to the north. Heading northeast, the red trail passes the green trail to the east and heads past Dragonfly Pond to the west near blaze R7.
This section of the red trail follows the historic public service trolley route which was in service from 1899-1938. The public service trolley route connected Paterson to Edgewater where a ferry took passengers to NYC.
Remains of Historic Public Trolley Route on Red Trail
Continuing north, the red trail comes to the 5 Pipes. The five pipes were leftover massive drainage pipes that are large enough to stand in. Rather than discard them, volunteers painted the interiors and exteriors to represent five eras of time.
Fives Pipes before any work was done
Primer with sketching
The exteriors of the five pipes represent natures flora and fauna found at the Teaneck Creek Conservancy across time. The interiors of the five pipes represent the human relationship to TCC in 5 different historical eras. These eras include:
1. Native American (The Lenape)
2. Colonial Period (The Dutch and the English)
3. A new nation’s early years (1776-1899)
4. USA: The 20th Century
5. USA: The 21st Century and Beyond
From here, the northern end of the Green trail is accessible immediately after the five pipes to the east near Teaneck Creek. A bridge crossing Teaneck Creek from the Heritage Point of Teaneck is found here.
Massive Black Willow
Continuing north, two massive Black Willows can be found at blazes R10 and R11 respectively. Near blaze R12, the Blue Trail is accessible to the west. Continuing north, the red trail crosses Teaneck Creek in the Fycke Woods section. (FYI: Fycke, is a Dutch word meaning fish or animal trap)
2 Gray Catbirds Teaneck Creek Conservancy
The Red Trail parallels Teaneck Creek to the west and comes to an outdoor ecology classroom at blaze R14. The outdoor ecology classroom is located near the highest quality forested wetlands remaining in TCC (Section A near Fycke Lane). The location of the classroom was previously surrounded by large dense stands of Common Reed. After most of the Common Reed was removed, native trees, shrubs and herbaceous species were planted. The outdoor ecology classroom was built after receiving funding of $100,000 from private and public sources in 2003. The classroom has four 12-foot long benches, a boardwalk and a 30 foot –wide five-sided opening in the middle that looks down into wetlands.
Outdoor Ecology Classroom
The red trail ends at Fycke Lane where the Fycke Lane Interpretive Project at Teaneck Creek Conservancy is found.
Welcome to the Fycke Lane Entrance of the Teaneck Creek Conservancy
The Fycke Lane Interpretive Project was conceived in 2003 and constructed in 2011 after being funded with a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
Fycke Lane Entrance
The project consists of 8 educational signs which provide illustrations and information on landscape perspectives ranging from habitat, wealth, and history among other landscape perspectives. The signs were constructed by a wall made of recycled materials. These signs will be replaced from time to time to provide fresh perspectives. The Fycke Lane Interpretive Project opened Earth Day in 2012.
Starting from the red trail near DeGraw Avenue, the rustic estimated .41 of a mile green trail traverses northeast to the Lenape Turtle Peace Labyrinth at blaze G2.
Lenape Turtle Peace Labyrinth Teaneck Creek Conservancy
The Labyrinth, located inside a Cottonwood Forest, was made from rubble found in Teaneck Creek Conservancy.
The Lenape Native Americans believed that the world began when a giant turtle swam to the surface of an ocean that covered the earth and the turtle’s back supported the continent. Hikers are encouraged to follow the rubblestone to the center of the labyrinth. A sign posted at the entrance states “A walk to the labyrinth’s center can provide an opportunity to meditate, heal and grow”.
Brown Headed Cowbird Teaneck Creek Conservancy
From the labyrinth, the green trail continues through the cottonwood forest until it reaches Teaneck Creek at blaze G8. Here there is a bridge crossing Teaneck Creek connecting the Glen Pointe Development with TCC. The green trail continues north following Teaneck Creek to the east. The Green Trail ends at the Red Trail at blaze G10 near the Five Pipes.
An interesting note is the green trail is the only trail in the park system that was designed and built by volunteers. The red and blue trail were designed and built by contractors.
The woodchip lined .27 of a mile blue trail traverses the northwestern section of TCC. Starting from Puffin Place, the blue trail heads north through a dense area of wetlands and reeds and passes a picnic area known as Black Walnut Meadow near blaze B4.
2009 Windows on the Park Exhibit
Black Walnut Meadow is the location of one of the first ongoing art exhibits I saw at Teaneck Creek Conservancy: Windows on the Park. Generally once a year, old window frames are taken and hung up alongside the blue trail to challenge the separation between public and private spaces.
Windows on the Park Public Space-Private Space
Windows on the Park IV April-May 2012
After leaving the Black Walnut Meadow, the blue trail heads north through wetlands and connects to the red trail at blaze B8 near the red trail’s R12.
TCC includes over 140 native species of plants including:
NJ’s geology, topography and soil, climate, plant-plant and plant-animal relationships, and the human impact on the environment are all discussed in great detail. Twelve plant habitats are described and the authors were good enough to put in examples of where to visit!