“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.