Disney Wilderness Preserve

Mark Kosinski
Landscape and Nature Photographer

In the early 1990’s the Walt Disney Company (Walt Disney World) purchased a 8,500 acre area of land in Poinciana, FL that was slated to be developed. The tract of land was once a large cattle ranch situated at the head of the Greater Everglades Watershed. Because the ranch cut most of the trees and vegetation the wetlands were in a very degraded state. Disney transferred the property to The Nature Conservancy to mitigate the destruction of the wetlands which are home to a considerable number of endangered plants and animal species. In the mid 1990’s an additional 3,000 acres was added by the Orlando Aviation Authority bringing the Preserve to 11,500 acres. The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker has been trans-located to DWP to repopulate the species there. Their preferred tree is the longleaf pine, which the preserve has a healthy growth of. Also notable is the long eared bat and the wood stork rookery (the rookery is a partnership effort with Disney at Animal Kingdom). In the spring the wood storks flock to the preserve to roost. There is natural growth bald cypress for them there.
The preserve also hosts the Conservation Learning Center where the conservation strategies used to restore the preserve are shared using a hands on approach. The buildings utilize “green” features such as geo-thermal heating and cooling, solar panels and a host of other features. The efforts at Disney Wilderness Preserve are serving as a model of sorts to other large scale conservation efforts.
Our visits to Disney Wilderness Preserve have always been very relaxing and enjoyable experiences. The preserve offers amenities such as a picnic area, a covered area with seating with a view of the marsh and a butterfly garden. The trails are well marked and very well maintained. Recently the Preserve opened a new trail which we were very excited to hike. Along the way you’ll find thoughtfully placed benches to sit and take in nature. Lake Russell which is one of a very few unspoiled natural lakes in this area of Florida is along one of the trails.
The preserve offers scrub, wetlands or marsh and the lake all available from the established trails. Hiking through all of the trails is about 6 miles. Allow yourself at least 3 to 4 hours to hike it. At the welcome center maps of the trails are available as well as the staff. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable about the preserve.

During our last visit, the Virginia Iris (Also known as Southern Blue Flag) was in bloom as well as St. John’s Wort, Candyroot and many other wild flowers. On an earlier visit we saw and photographed a Loggerhead Shrike and an Eastern Meadowlark.