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Have you ever wondered what Central Florida was like before the Mouse moved in? Then go check out the Disney Wilderness Preserve

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Have you ever wondered what Central Florida was like before the Mouse moved in? Then go check out the Disney Wilderness Preserve

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I'm sure that you've all experienced something like this during at least one Disney World vacation. That moment when the crowds start to close in. When the noise & the heat at the theme parks get to be too much.

Well, if you ever find yourself feeling like this ... Might I suggest that you climb into your rental car and drive on out to Kissimmee. Where -- just 15 miles away from Mickey's carefully manicured & maintained Magical Kingdoms -- sits the Disney Wilderness Preserve.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Run by The Nature Conservancy, this 12,000 acre preserve ... Well, it's the way Central Florida used to look before the Mouse moved in. Where -- as you follow the wide trails that run through dense fields of saw palmetto -- ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... you'll eventually reach Lake Russell, one of the last undeveloped lakes in all of Central Florida.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

Here, you'll hear no area music. Just the peaceful sound of the wind blowing through the treetops and the waves lapping against the shore.

And if you're lucky -- as you're sitting there, basking in all that peace and quiet -- some of the hundreds of wildlife species that call the Disney Wilderness Preserve home will eventually reveal themselves to you.


Photo of painting by Nancy Stadler

Earlier this year, while Nancy and I were visiting the Preserve, we had a flock of wild turkeys cross the trail just ahead of us.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

We also observed a sand crane standing watch on a newly hatched group of chicks.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

We also enjoyed our visit to the Disney Wilderness Preserve's WDI-designed visitor center. Which -- with its recycled steel roof as well as its non-toxic pressure treated wood which was then harvested from a sustainably managed forest -- may be one of the most eco-friendly buildings on this planet.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

Speaking of ecology ... The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve is a model of ecological restoration. Which is why you shouldn't be all that surprised if you drive all the way out to Kissimmee only to find that the gates are closed.


Photo by Jeff Lange

You see, the staff here is constantly working to restore this particular piece of property (which used to be known as the Walker Ranch) to its original state. Which sometimes involve brush clearing & controlled burns in order to stimulate natural plant growth.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

The Disney Wilderness Preserve is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on major holidays. If you'd like the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of Florida as well as get a closer look at The Nature Conservancy's land restoration efforts, please call the preserve in advance before visiting at (407) 935-0002.

Admission to the Disney Wilderness Preserve is $3 for adults, $2 youth (ages 6-17) and $2 for Nature Conservancy members. All monies collected are then used to help maintain the Preserve's network of trails.

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  • Great article. But for an even cheaper alternative to see the "real" Florida, try some of the great state parks in the area. Some of my favorites are Lake Louisa State park in Lake County (just a short trip from Kissimmee down US 27), or Blue Springs in Volusia Co.

  • I wish I'd known about this Disney conservation area when I used to live down there, even if it was under another name at that time. I agree with Jables - I used to LOVE Blue Springs, especially during the winter months when the manatees would bask in the tributary where the warmer water bubbling from the spring made its way out towards the river. I also remember seeing the occasional alligator, snakes and tropical birds. Beautiful place!

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