Silhouettes of trees at sunset.
Sunset in Florida's Disney Wilderness Preserve © Ian Adams

Places We Protect

The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Florida

At The Disney Wilderness Preserve, nature offers you a front-row seat to conservation at its best.

“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.”—Walt Disney

The Nature Conservancy’s 11,500-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee stands as a testament not only to Disney’s love of nature, but also to the power of cooperation, perseverance and innovative thinking. Perhaps most significant, the preserve has become a national model for sustainable development and state-of-the-art conservation management.

Steeped in History

Home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, The Disney Wilderness Preserve is an essential part of the Everglades ecosystem and contains 3,500 acres of restored wetlands that act as nature’s “sponges,” capturing rain, filtering out nutrients and replenishing our groundwater.

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 Greater Everglades watershed. In the early 1990s, the ranch was slated for extensive residential and commercial development which would have spelled the end for the property’s degraded—but restorable—wetlands, as well as the destruction of significant habitat for endangered plants and wildlife.

Working with The Nature Conservancy, the State of Florida, and a number of other groups, The Walt Disney Co. purchased the property to mitigate its expansion and transferred it to the Conservancy to create a nature preserve dedicated to wetlands restoration on an unprecedented scale. The transfer also helped mitigate future impact associated with the development of Walt Disney World. The Walt Disney Co. provided funds for restoration and wildlife monitoring on the property and continues to partner on a number of on-site projects.

In 1995, the greater Orlando Aviation Authority added an additional 3,000 acres to mitigate for airport expansion, bringing the preserve to its current size.

At The Disney Wilderness Preserve, you can hike, bird-watch and enjoy old Florida’s natural beauty. There is no fee, although donations are appreciated.

What to See: Animals

Birds include the bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork, sandhill crane, Northern harrier and crested caracara. The preserve is also home to the Southeastern big-eared bat, Sherman’s fox squirrel, Eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise. The Florida panther has even been documented crossing the site!

What to See: Plants

The Disney Wilderness Preserve features cypress swamp, freshwater marsh, scrub, flatwoods and oak hammocks. A rejuvenated longleaf pine forest—replete with a lush understory of native grasses, saw palmetto and other shrubs—is one result of the use of prescribed fire to the land. Key flowers include the fall-flowering ixia, Catesby’s lily and terrestrial orchids.

Contact Us

The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve
2700 Scrub Jay Trail
Kissimmee, FL 34759
Phone: (407) 935-0002
Email: visitdwp@tnc.org

Hiking Trail

Hikers: Please register at the Information Center prior to setting out and allow at least two hours to hike the trail (not including stops.) For your safety and comfort, bring drinking water, hats, sun protection, bug repellent and use appropriate footwear. Always be aware of changing weather conditions. Water levels fluctuate based on rainfall and groundwater levels; trails may be wet at times.

Pets, smoking, weapons and alcohol are prohibited. Please stay on the trail and do not collect plants or animals.

The hiking trail includes a one-mile trip to Lake Russell. Those wishing a longer experience may continue along the 2.5-mile loop, which offers a closer look at the preserve’s natural communities.

A Model Preserve

The restoration of wetland and upland habitat has included the elimination of non-native, invasive plants and grasses, controlled burns in fire-dependent habitats and the mechanical removal of excessive shrub and tree growth.

In 2012, regulators deemed the restoration of The Disney Wilderness Preserve’s wetlands successful, making the project an unparalleled victory for conservation. The work done on the preserve is already improving the quality and quantity of water within the Greater Everglades watershed and has served as a springboard for the Conservancy’s effort to protect other ranches in the watershed and secure federal support for Florida conservation projects.

Innovations

Learning Lab
The Preserve is a living laboratory where people work and learn together about healing the land and thriving in harmony with the natural environment.

A Springboard 
The Preserve has become the centerpiece of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The collaborative approach that produced The Disney Wilderness preserve is being applied to this project by bringing together state and federal agencies to envision a conservation area that includes both public and private land, the kind of wetland restoration pioneered at the preserve, and a combination of working and protected lands.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Translocation Program 
The Conservancy works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a program to return the red-cockaded woodpecker to the preserve. Relocated woodpeckers are rebounding in the restored longleaf pine habitat.

Wood Stork Rookery 
The Conservancy partners with The Walt Disney Company’s Animal Kingdom to monitor one of the most closely studied wood stork rookeries in the United States. Hundreds of this ancient, endangered bird flock to the preserve each spring, where they roost in raucous splendor among old growth bald cypress.

A Laboratory for Scientific Experiments
The Conservancy has teamed with scientists from the University of Central Florida and the National Ecological Observatory Network to better understand issues such as climate change by measuring the amount of carbon stored in different habitats at the preserve. Sensitive instruments collect data on weather, water, energy and carbon storage. Scientific studies help document the value of natural habitats.

Green Building Features
The preserve’s Conservation Learning Center and other buildings include green features such as:

• Geothermal heating and cooling
• Freshwater catchment for irrigation and other non-potable uses
• Green forest-grown pine lumber comes from a Certified Sustainable Forest
• Solar panels collect steady sunlight; wide porches and ceiling fans shield work areas
• Low VOC paint
• All porch (or outdoor) furniture made from recycled materials