Although the Osceola District Schools Environmental Study Center is only open to the public on weekends, its trails provide an up-close look at more than a dozen old growth cypresses and wildlife along Reedy Creek. With its headwaters in what is now Walt Disney World, Reedy Creek flows sluggishly southward through cypress swamps into pristine Lake Russell, and is one of the northernmost sources of water for the Everglades.
The most obvious of the park’s three short trails is the 0.5-mile long boardwalk starting at the parking lot. Don’t miss this trail, as it provides your best opportunity for wildlife watching. The Indian Mound Trail starts behind the interpretive center, and the Pine Woods Trail at the far end of the parking area; it also has a trailhead along Poinciana Drive.
Length: Up to 5.3 miles in 3 trails
Lat-Lon: 28.164722, -81.447750
Type: Linear with loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to annoying
Staffed by volunteer teachers on the weekends, the Osceola District Schools Environmental Study Center is open to the public from 10 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays, and 12 PM to 5 PM on Sundays. If you’ve enjoyed the trails and the interpretive information, be sure to thank one of the teachers for their participation in this excellent environmental education project.
To find the Environmental Study Center, take I-4 west from Orlando to exit 27, Lake Buena Vista, heading south on FL 535. After 2.9 miles, turn right on Poinciana Boulevard. Heading south, this road crosses both US 192 and US 17/92 en route to Poinciana. You’ll travel 14.1 miles south from the FL 535 intersection before reaching the park. If you are coming from the west on I-4, use exit 24 and head south towards Kissimmee; turn left on US 17/92, then right on Poinciana Boulevard. Several signs along the route alert you to the park’s existence. Turn right into the parking lot.
ALONG THE BOARDWALK
Sign in at the register and pick up an interpretive guide. As you walk above the swamp, notice the many stumps of large cypresses cut by hand from the 1930s through the 1950s. Royal ferns and leather ferns grow out of niches in the stumps. Some of the remaining cypress knees from the old growth cypresses are up to three feet tall.
Turn right at the fork, following the boardwalk down to Reedy Creek. Scan the near shore carefully, looking for young alligators and water moccasins. Largemouth bass jump for flies, creating splashes every few moments. Anhingas perch in the far trees, spreading their wings to dry. Take the time to savor the creek from the deck, as patches of duckweed drift by, hinting at the sluggish current. In the spring, you’ll see dozens of great blue herons in the trees off to the right, where they’ve established a rookery.
INDIAN MOUND TRAIL
The Indian Mound Trail starts down in the woods behind the back porch; search for the sign that marks its start. A 1.2-mile round-trip, this trail ends at a spot where a small midden sits along Reedy Creek. Past the old “FT” sign, the blue-blazed trail meanders through saw palmetto and cinnamon fern along the edge of the cypress swamp, crossing one small bridge over a clear-bottomed creek. Interpretive signs add to your understanding of human activity in the area. It’s a wonderland of ferns, as dense patches of sword fern, netted chain, and marsh fern crowd the trail. Poison ivy grows here too, so watch your step. There are mushy spots, and this trail is especially prone to flooding during times of high water, as it closely follows the edge of the swamp.
After 0.3 mile, the trail makes a sharp right onto the old tramway, right into the swamp. The blazes end; use common sense to keep to the clearest path, where the narrow gauge railroad once ran on a tramway to Reedy Creek. The trees surrounding you are alive with epiphytes of all shapes and sizes, from pineapple-like bromeliads to delicate butterfly orchids. The trail peters out in front of the small bluffs along the creek; it’s up to you to find the small midden, a treeless mound, that marks the end of the trail. Return to the Environmental Study Center by retracing your path along the tramway back to the blue-blazed trail on the left.
PINE WOODS TRAIL
The center’s third trail along Reedy Creek Swamp can be done with two cars as a 1.8-mile one-way hike, or as a round trip hike of 3.6 miles. The far trailhead for the trail is 1.2 miles north on Poinciana Boulevard, directly across from the Horse World stables. A small brown sign indicates the very small trailhead parking lot. To find the trailhead at the Environmental Study Center, walk along the entry road towards Poinciana Boulevard, carefully watching for a small opening in the trees on the left. A large sign indicates the start of the Pine Woods Trail, where you immediately cross a bridge over some mucky spots. As you wander along the edge of the swamp, the short interpretive trail – with excellent signs and a section of rebuilt logging railroad track – evolves into the Ecotone Trail, with no further signage but a continuation of the red blazes that led you into the woods. An ecotone is a zone where two habitats meet, which is exactly what this trail does—keeps you on the edge of the cypress swamp, meeting up with the bayheads and pine flatwoods that come down to the swamp’s edge. It is a narrow trail in places, with bridges, boardwalks, and planks to keep you out of most of the moisture of the swamp.