You’ve seen or visited Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness and even the resorts at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But did you know there is more, so much more, as in 11,500 acre mores. Just outside the parks, in Kissimmee, Florida guests can visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve. An integral part of the Florida Everglades, this preserve is an amazing place to spend the day. Hiking, sightseeing and appreciating the conservation efforts of Disney in the Wilderness.
Walt Disney’s Love of Nature
Walt once said “Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the hearts of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water. Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine.” Showing Walt’s love of nature and honoring that love the Walt Disney Company provided funds for the restoration and even wildlife monitoring on the preserve. The preserve is not affiliated with the theme parks, but they continue to partner on a number of onsite projects.
Containing 3,500 acres of restored wetlands, acting as nature’s “sponges”. These wetlands capture rain, filter out nutrients and replenishing the local ground water. More than 1,000 species of plants and animals call this Everglades ecosystem home.
From Theme Parks To Nature Preserves
Disney Wilderness Preserve in Central Florida stands as a shining example of cooperation, perseverance and innovative thinking. It’s also a testament to Walt’s love of nature and his philanthropy from the very beginning.
The nature preserve started originally as the 8,500 acre Walker Ranch, a cattle ranch. Sitting at at the head of the greater Everglades watershed. Almost 30 years ago, The Walt Disney Company gifted the ranch to the future of Central Florida. Thus by creating the Disney Wilderness Preserve. The ranch, originally designated for extensive residential and commercial development, could have spelled disaster for the local ecosystem. The existing wetlands, while severely degraded, were in fact restorable.
The Walt Disney Company partnered with TNC, the State of Florida and a few other groups to create this area. It was once considered the” prize jewel” among conservationist, due to its rare upland habitat. After purchasing the property, The Walt Disney Company transferred the property to the TNC to create the nature preserve. This transfer of land and creation of the nature preserve dedicated to the wetlands was an unprecedented project up until then.
No Roller Coasters Here
The nature preserve does have the Disney name on it, but it is not owned by the Disney company, they are just a major contributor. You can spend the day hiking along one of the many trails throughout the preserve. There are 3, starting with .5 mile and one that is 6 miles that winds throughout the wetlands and the upland habitats.
Rare birds such as the bald eagle and the wood stork have been spotted here along with many others. The habitats are full of squirrels, tortoises and there has even been documentation of the Florida Panther being spotted. Beautiful flowers including lilies and orchids are interwoven with the Saw Palmettos and native grasses. Don’t forget the 540 acre Lake Russell, this sandy bottom lake is located on the Red Wilderness Trail.
Conservation at Work
The Disney Wilderness Preserve is, in essence, a living laboratory. They have created an environment where people work and learn together. It has become the epicenter of Everglades conservation and brings together state and federal agencies. There are eco- friendly buildings, classes, controlled burns, and so much more to further the restoration of public and private lands. They have created a safe habitat for many different species, including the Florida Scrub-Jay, Florida’s only endemic bird.
After meandering along the trails, taking some pictures of the wildlife and just over all enjoy the beauty of the preserve stop into one of the eco-friendly buildings. The preserve’s Conservation Learning Center is full of information about the past and the future of conservation and they are doing to help.