When people think of Florida, they think, sunshine, oranges, beaches, and sunbathers. But as a native Floridian, I have recently discovered a hidden gem in Central Florida. Hiding just beyond the pavement and the honking horns of society is The Disney Wilderness Preserve near the Kissimmee/ Poinciana border.
I took my first journey on a Disney Wilderness trail a couple of weeks ago with some special friends. We are all at different athletic levels but survived and enjoyed our experience. There are trails suited to fit a variety of skill levels.
"Whenever the pressure of our complex city life thins my blood and numbs my brain, I seek relief inl the trail; and when I hear the coyote wailing to the yellow dawn, my cares fall from me-I am happy." - Hamin Garland-
Way back when
What began as a cattle ranch, this 8,000 plus acre parcel was thought to be wasted wetland, about to be sold and used for housing units. However, with consideration for the benefits to the Everglades ecosystem, developers decided not to utilize it for residential and commercial properties.
Today, Poinciana, FL, is home to approximately 70,000 people, and now, also home to thousands of wildlife animals and ecosystem plants. And is a thriving preservation land, flourishing with the collective help of the State of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, and, you guessed it, Walt Disney Company.
Overview of The Disney Wilderness Preserve
Whether you are a full-time Central Florida resident or a part-time visitor, The Disney Wilderness Preserve has something for everyone.
2700 Scrub-Jay Trail Poinciana, Florida 34759
The Learning Lab
Filled with animals and plants native to the area, the whole family can learn more about the conservation's history and its inhabitants by visiting the Learning Lab. This building is where the magic happens and where you might catch a touch of Disney's hand in the making.
A special rookery
Working with the Walt Disney Company's Animal Kingdom, there is also a rookery to house the Wood Stork. Thankfully, this highly endangered bird species has found a home to return to each migration and can be studied and preserved for generations.
Get started at the Welcome Center.
You can visit the Welcome Center Wednesday through Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm EST and Saturday or Sunday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. You can find information about the preserve and grab a map before heading out.
The nature trails run roughly 6.0 miles and cover different types of terrain. There are options for experienced hikers or casual walkers. Expect to spend an incredible 2 hours or so (stops for photos and resting add more time). So bring your hiking boots and set off on the designated paths for a wondrous back-to-nature adventure.
Getting back to nature on the trails
With the Welcome Center behind you and water bottles filled, it's time to begin the journey. Immediately the beauty arrives with butterflies and a pond, home to many species such as King Rail, Snipe, and American Woodcock.
Moving along, you will come to your first fork of the hike. Head right, and you be on the first challenging path or keep moving forward for a lighter but just as fascinating walk.
No matter which trail you are on, you will find beautiful wildlife such as leopard frogs (watch for water snakes, too) and larger bird species like the Sandhill Crane, Wild turkeys, and even eagles. In addition to animals to spot and photograph, cypress trees will canopy your walk in one area, while other parts are waving tall grasses hiding the water's edge of Lake Russell.
Two hours will fly by with so much to observe. Picnic tables are available around the trail stops if you need to rest or stop for lunch. So enjoy a snack, watch the winged creatures fly around, and enjoy how remarkable nature can be.
Benefits to trail walking
Yes, the view is breathtaking, and what the conservation does for the animals and the ecosystem is impressive. But also be reminded that there are bountiful health benefits as well. Looking at beautiful scenery is a great way to "forget" you are getting active and being healthy for yourself too. One of the best benefits of nature walks is getting healthy without realizing it.
You just walked, stopped, maybe bent down to see something in the grass, or tiptoed (stretching those calf muscles) and sat/stood from the picnic table after lunch. These natural body movements keep you healthy and moving while enjoying a nature walk outdoors in the fresh air.
The benefits don't stop with the workout your body gets. Your mind gets a workout as well. Mentally, being outside for a nature walk allows your body to refocus on the simpler things in life. You forget about the laundry left undone or going back to work on Monday. Instead, the fresh air, sunshine (Vitamin D). Being outside helps improve your sensory awareness. You are looking, listening, feeling, without even thinking about it. Your senses naturally pick up the new things around you now that the smog, clog, and work noise is gone.
Go out and connect with nature.
"I could never resist the call of the trail." -Buffalo Bill-