Orlando Wetlands Park is a man-made natural wonder that would make Mother Nature proud. There are no roller coasters, merry-go-rounds or virtual reality rides. None of the wildlife is behind glass or trapped in enclosures of any kind — hundreds of species come and go as they please. This is, instead, a world-class wetland conceived, constructed and maintained by humans through the City of Orlando Public Works Department and volunteers working through the Friends of the Orlando Wetlands.
The incredible variety and density of wildlife and vegetation are unparalleled in interior Central Florida. More than 150 different bird species and over 60 butterfly species call this home, along with alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, otters, snakes and even the elusive Florida panther. 20+ miles of dirt roads and woodland trails provide outstanding viewing opportunities, making this a popular spot for both professional and novice photographers alike. The Florida National Scenic Trail also runs through the park. The roads are open to bicyclers, joggers and hikers, while the trails are foot-traffic only. If you’re not up to bicycling or hiking, stop by on a Friday or Saturday for a free ride through the wetlands.
Orlando Wetlands Park is cutting-edge technology designed to solve wastewater issues and provide outstanding habitats for a wide range of species at the same time. 1650 acres of mostly cattle pastures have been sculpted into pristine wetlands. The planting of over 2 million aquatic plants and 200,000 trees help to remove excess phosphorus and nitrogen from the water that will eventually flow into the St. Johns River. Up to 35 million gallons of water pass through here every day, providing nutrients to the plants and habitat to the animals. This giant science lab attracts more than wildlife — city planners and wastewater engineers from around the globe come here to study this impressive environmental success.
While a man-made natural wonder may seem a contradiction in terms, here you’ll see both the hand of man and Mother Nature working together in perfect harmony. Though humans have a long history of destroying the environment, this project proves beyond doubt that we can enhance the environment. It really is a man-made wonder. But it’s also a natural wonder, simply due to the incredible variety and density of Florida flora & fauna. As far as the plants and animals are concerned, this is as good (if not better) than any 100% natural environment — thanks to the handiwork of continuous maintenance. Controlled water levels, controlled burns and exotic invasive species eradication programs help to keep these wetlands as close to perfect as possible.
Located in a serene corner of the quaint town of Christmas, FL in rural eastern Orange County, this may be Orlando’s best kept secret. Cattle ranches still dominate the landscape out here. Fort Christmas Historical Park, the town’s namesake, is just down the road. Driving in, it feels as though you’re passing through a time machine. The hustle and bustle of Metro Orlando seems light years away. It’s like Mayberry (Andy Griffith) in paradise. Once there, I find it hard to leave. Now open all year! Oh, did I mention it’s FREE? No cost to park, no entrance fee. Nobody begging for donations. So what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favor & put this Natural Wonder on your Florida Bucket List. Bring plenty of water and food — you’re likely to stay a while.
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