I'm well aware that I'm in the minority that's not in love with Disney World; even some of my own family are addicts of the Magic Kingdom. But even if you love it, after a while you're bound to need relief from fictional, fantastic, futuristic or recreated landscapes...and fortunately, relief is just a short ride away.
The Tiber-Butler Nature Preserve was our escape on our travel day, after a week of family bonding and Disney living. It's barely three miles from the magic as the crow flies, but ten miles by road, and a world away. It's in an area that was once logged for cypress.
The park includes nearly 3.6 miles of hiking trails, many of which close from time to time depending on water levels in the swamps, cypress swamps and marshes. It's named for the lake it fronts, one of a chain of eleven. In addition to a wide variety of trees and plants, it has over 100 species of birds, including ospreys, owls and even bald eagles (though we didn't see any!)
The preserve land was acquired in the 1980s, in part to keep developers from filling the area and destroying habitat. Even so, development nearby has slowly altered the park, according to some hiking blogs. There's also a nature center and classroom near the entrance, named for Vera Carter, who was the county parks commissioner when the preserve was created.
Our visit was shorter than we would have liked; heavy rains over the weeks before had raised water levels so that only one trail, the one with the boardwalk, was a sure bet without waders. And after seeing the warning signs, I wasn't sure I was interested even if I had waders!
Along the boardwalk route, there was plenty to see: many varieties of swamp plants, cypress itself, endless crickets, and a few places where there was clearly movement under the water, but no heads up to tell me whether it was frogs, alligators or fish.
The nature center runs programs at the preserve for local students, and some local Boy Scout groups have been involved in building and maintaining habitats.
Exhibits in the center include discussions of types of land within the area, the effects of logging in the past, how fire has played a role in maintaining the area, and more.
And, since Florida wouldn't be Florida without alligators, a couple of them (babies) are hanging out in a large tank in the center.
Near the entrance, there's a demonstration butterfly garden, planted with plants that attract butterflies. There were more, but the others were camera-shy.
The preserve is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free, and there's a picnic area available, complete with concrete turtle. Sadly, no public transport to the site at 8777 Winter Garden Vineland Road, Orlando.