Treasures of Discovery Island: Walt Disney World’s Original Nature Preserve
Acquired in 1965 as one of the first parcels of land for Walt Disney’s Florida Project, Riles Island, or Raz Island, was set aside for one of The Vacation Kingdom’s early and unique recreational features, a nature preserve.
Early plans for the island revealed walking trails, animal enclosures (mostly birds, in aviaries) and educational exhibits. However, being that this was Walt Disney World, this came with a thematic twist: Set as a tropical island in the Florida Straits, the island would have adopted the setting of the 1950s Disney Film, Treasure Island. Several thematic tableaux were planned, as illustrated by Collin Campbell in 1972.
When the island finally opened in 1974, under the name Treasure Island, the Shipwreck of the Hispaniola was a prominent icon of the island, but Ben Gunn’s Cave never materialized. 50,000 cubic yards of earth were added to the Treasure Island to expand it’s size to eleven acres with this addition in mind, however.
Treasure Island became Discovery Island in 1977, the new name focusing more on the animals and exploratory nature of the small zoological park. The pirate and nautical motifs remained, as a pleasant and interesting background to the setting.