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Forgotten Walt Disney World: River Country

WDW's original water park cooled guests on summer days for 25 years. So why did Disney close it?

by
Chris Queen

Bio

June 27, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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River Country

The Weather Channel has run a fascinating feature on weather.com: a photo gallery of “Creepy Abandoned Theme Parks.” The post lives up to its name — the photos show an eerie emptiness to the parks, which run the gamut from a park decimated by Hurricane Katrina to a Ukrainian park scheduled to open just days after the Chernobyl disaster. One of the parks in the photo gallery tells the story of a slice of Disney history that is long lost — River Country.

Back in Walt Disney World’s early days in the first half of the ’70s, the Vacation Kingdom that Walt and Roy Disney and the Imagineers had in mind was not fully realized. There simply wasn’t much to do beyond the Magic Kingdom, the resort hotels and campground, and a little golf. The Imagineers knew they needed to add more to the park to lure guests for longer stays. In a burst of development in the mid ’70s, the company built the Disney Village Marketplace (now the core of the Downtown Disney area) and developed River Country adjacent to Fort Wilderness Campground & Resort.

Walt Dated World, a fan site devoted to Walt Disney World history, describes the opening of River Country:

This water park opened on five acres at a corner of Bay Lake near Cypress Point at Fort Wilderness on June 20, 1976. It was officially opened by Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan and was designed to be like the type of swimming hole you’d imagine in a Mark Twain novel. According to Disney press releases, gravity kept the millions of gallons of water fresh in River Country. A giant flexible tube at the mouth of the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole opened into Bay Lake and served as a “bladder” as it expanded and contracted to keep the River Country water level six inches higher than the lake. This was accomplished through the use of a special sensor system.

Water from Bay Lake was pumped through the inside of River Country’s artificial mountain to the top of the flumes and raft ride at the rate of 8,500 gallons a minute. Following the principle that gravity causes water to seek its own level, the River Country water spilled over the top of the tube back into Bay Lake and provided circulation in the water. There were natural sand beaches underfoot instead of the concrete found at a regular waterpark.

Fred Joerger, who did rock work on attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain and Tom Sawyer Island designed the rocks at River Country and scattered them with pebbles from streambeds in Georgia and the Carolinas.

River Country consisted of several sections. The Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole included rope bridges and a 330,000 gallon sand-bottom pool. Kiddie Cove contained activities just for the little ones. Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow hosted two longer flume slides, and Raft Rider Ridge included a white-water rapid slide. The Upstream Plunge was a heated pool with short flume slides that dropped guests quickly into the pool. The park included a shop and dining options; guests could bring their own picnics. The park remained popular into the ’90s, often closing due to capacity on hot summer days.

River Country

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Not only did River Country not close immediately after the boy’s death, it remained open another 21 years. "


21 years. Yep, that's sure cause and effect!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Guess I should not assume that people would not click on part 2, where the most likely thing that prompted the park's closure is discussed: a business decision as opposed to avoiding another amoebic infection.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When posting links, it really works better to give a summation of your point.

As you found, busy people may not read/watch/explore everything at the link.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Could you tell us where this is located?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank goodness my parents didn't know about that amoeba back when my brother and I were swimming in lakes and rivers and swamps around central Florida. Maybe the gators and moccasins who swam in those same waters protected us. It wasn't unusual to see either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The widely accepted explanation I've heard is that it was closed because of an amoeba that lives in freshwater lakes in Florida that is particularly nasty and hard to cure. Since River Country was connected to Bay Lake, that amoeba was present in the park.

Despite the low probability of being infected by the amoeba, Disney likely decided it was cheaper (and better PR) to close that park and steer guests towards the resort pools (every resort has at least one; most have multiple) and the two water parks. Those all use chlorinated water and are even heated so they can be used year-round.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's a link to information about the amoeba:

http://www.doh.state.fl.us/chd/volusia/eh/lab/pdf/amoeba.pdf

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Go read the links at the top comment: [http://www.yesterland.com/rivercountry.html]

The water came from, was treated and then used by the park and after that it was returned to Bay Lake. The Ameoba infection was never linked to the swimmin hole water but the park did not want to create a bad PR show and let the story go as written. I live here in the area and my friend's Dad from the old neighborhood was a pretty important engineer at WDW and we were used as test subjects many times over the course of the building and development of WDW and its rides/attractions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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