The Disney Wilderness Preserve: Our Story

Sandhill cranes fascinate visitors year-round at the preserve.

Owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, this 11,500-acre preserve was established in 1992 through an agreement with the Walt Disney Company and several public agencies. Through extensive restoration, the preserve is returning to a more natural state, supplying food and shelter for a variety of native plants and animals.

The Disney Wilderness Preserve is located south of Orlando, at the headwaters of the Everglades in Osceola and Polk counties. The preserve is part of the Reedy Creek watershed. Two large swamp systems and two lakes frame the preserve. Rivers, flatwoods, scrubby areas and approximately 4,000 acres of wetlands lie within its boundaries. Acting as nature’s “sponge”, they capture water, filter nutrients, replenish Florida’s aquifer, and provide essential habitat for plants and wildlife.

Before becoming a Nature Conservancy preserve, the land was a cattle ranch where timbering, and ditching to increase drainage and create pasture areas, dramatically changed the landscape and reduced the wetlands. By the late 1980s the land had been substantially altered and was being considered for urban development. Discussions of how to protect this piece of Florida wilderness led to a new approach to conservation. The Walt Disney Company, and later the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, joined with the environmental community and state agencies to create the first large-scale, off-site restoration project of its kind. 

Mitigation Goes Cutting Edge

Wetland mitigation is compensation through wetland restoration for functions and values that are lost when a wetland is impacted by development.

Traditionally, mitigation was done on the actual site of the impact. It was done by recreating some of the natural losses by creating new wetlands and new habitat. At The Disney Wilderness Preserve, mitigation has been taken to a larger scale, allowing The Nature Conservancy to restore functions at an ecosystems level.

The key to The Disney Wilderness Preserve's success has been the unique partnership. Through their shared vision, the partners of The Disney Wilderness Preserve developed a better solution than the old way of mitigating the adverse environmental effects of land development.

Realizing the opportunity to use the preserve as a place of learning about mitigation at a large scale, the Conservation Learning Center was opened in 1999.

A Shining Example

The Disney Wilderness Preserve shines as an example of what can be achieved when strong leaders, businesses and conservationists work together as partners. Through The Nature Conservancy’s effective management and aggressive approach to restoration, the preserve proves that sustainable development is possible. And with the help of organizations, governments, communities, industries and people like you, we can make a measurable difference.