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« Merry Christmas | Main | Roy E. Disney Dies at 79 »
Saturday
Dec192009

ABANDONED DISNEY: River Country [Part 1]

A while back I spent some time* at Disney's first water park, River Country.  Yep, it's still there where they left it yet it no longer functions as a park.  More like a watery ghost town.  There are few things in the world that compare to the feeling of walking through an abandoned attraction, let alone an entire abandoned park.

I do not suggest you go jumping over fences to climb around your favorite forgotten Disney destination.  (Maybe you just peak through the cracks in the fences the next time you are at The Hoop-Dee-Doo Review at Fort Wilderness--- located just south of River Country).

With a view of the Contemporary, Space Mountain, and Discover Island in both photos.

A floating yellow inner tube still floats in the swampy water.

 

[Part 2][Part 3], and [Part 4] now available.


For more River Country history go to http://waltdatedworld.bravepages.com/id220.htm

'Then' photos from printed materials, mgmcinnis, auntierain, and others.
'Now' photos by Fritz and Bing Maps 

*This did not include trespassing.  It was by invitation.  Please to do not tour River Country without permission.

 

Related posts:

ABANDONED DISNEY: River Country [Part 2]
ABANDONED DISNEY: River Country [Part 3]
ABANDONED DISNEY: River Country [Part 4]
River Country Fun [Part 1]

ABANDONED DISNEY: Haunted Mansion Hitchhiking Ghosts
ABANDONED DISNEY: Country Bear- Max
Fake Disney Park in Japan


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    I never had the chance to see what the ol' swimmin' hole looked like back in my childhood in the 90's...
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Reader Comments (37)

Ahhh River Country. That place was cool I do like Blizzard and Typhoon but I have fond memories of RC. I hope the Magic Kingdom never ends up like that. If so, I'm going in to do what you did. Great post!

December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTL98H8R

Wow, it looks like everybody just up and left in an instant! It seems kind of eery yet kind of exciting that there's this entire park just sitting there abandoned with water still in the pools and tubes still laying around. Have you been there? It is really like the pictures?

December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoann

unbelievable.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Great comparison photos, Fritz. Don't know if I've ever seen side-by-sides like this before for RC.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Such a saddening comparison to see what was so long ago. Brings back memories from what seems like another lifetime.

January 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWDW Fanboy

I have very fond memories of Discovery Island, which closed when they opened Animal Kingdom. On our very first visit to WDW in1998 we asked a cast member if there was somewhere we could go to chill on our second day, after hitting MK on day one.She suggested DI. It was wonderful, a slow boat trip from the M.K across to the island, gentle music playing, cool places to sit under shady trees, even a hammock on a beach to relax in.It was busy with visitors but very relaxed.
We have been back to WDW many times, we even bought a house at Orange Tree for wonderful vacations and even more wonderful memories,we like Animal Kingdom, but it doesn't compare to Discovery Island.

January 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElaine Room from the U.K

My children and grandchildren enjoyed going to River Country over the years. I'm sorry to see it in such disrepair. I always thought they should have opened it to the Camp Ground as there swimming area. I read that due to bacteria in the lake waters it was most likely the reason it was closed.

January 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

I was feeling to same way . What great memories I had at river country it would be truley awsome if they ropened the park especially if they made exculsive for lodge and campground guests. I would pay up to 40.00 bucks to go ot it just to bring back old memeroires. We all want to go back and I think disney nows that and they shjould capatilaize on our old hearts.I recently hoped the fences and it was pretty cool walking through the old site but it was bitter sweet. So heres to river country . I miss you.

bp -tampa-fl

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbp

There's a great discussion and look back at River Country on Lou MOngello's WDW Radio Disney podcast http://wdwradio.com/WDW-Radio-Show-Disney-Podcast/Show-55-Feb.-24-2008.html

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax D.

I loved that park when i was a child. My parents took me there our first trip to disney and a couple of years ago i took my wife and wanted to show her that park. I was disapointed to find out that it had been shut down.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Great pictures, though it's sad to see RC this way. And that pic with the yellow innertube still floating there gives me the creeps for some reason.

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

River country is to be ripped out and the barn next to it will be removed and then we get in their place Fort Wilderness Vacation Club.

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdward

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlink exchange

i feel that disney should have (or should in the near future) take care of this place. I feel like though it was a great park, it's disgusting for disney to just let it sit there and decay away. I've seen more images similar to these on other websites, and it looks like disney just closed one night and never returned.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa

gutted to see this once cool water park in this state was there in the 90's and enjoyed it so much its terrible disney has left it 2 rot away. goin back 2 disney this year and was looking forward to going back and to discovery island but not to be

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbobby

I can't get enough of the Then' and 'Now'. I have a strange obsession with parts of Disney that I don't get to see or have been left to rot. Great pictures.

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteryoucansmellit

it is with regret that i see the pictures above, i remember whiling my time in RC, lets not forget discovery Island which was also used as a bird sanctuary for all injured and flightless birds, i wonder if that program is still running in another part of the resort

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternick vafiadis

After Pioneer Hall opened and we designed and built Fort Wilderness, River Country was next back at WED in 1975. Disney's first water park and first Themed water park was quite a challenge back then. Dick Nunis provided daily testing of the slides and reported results over the phone to WED California. Sorry to see it in this state today. PD

October 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Hey Professional Dreamer,

Glad to hear there are still a few old-timers around. My Mom worked there from 2/69 to 2/74 two weeks from getting her Silver Pass, I don't think any of the Pre-opening employees ever got one of those passes. Mom was Charlie Wagners secretary at RCID then a contract administrator.

Mom and I have been going through all the papers she saved, I want her to document her memories of her time there especially the pre-opening days since there just doesn't seem to be much material out there. With all the articles for the 40th anniversary many have mentioned the pre-opening party for the employees and contractors and I realised that in all Mom's papers I didn't find any mention of the party except a brief article in the June '71 issue of "News from Walt Disney World" on the preparations for Opening Day which says "employees and contractors and their families will be among the first guests and ticket books will be compliments of the house!"

I remember going to the party and looking forward to it for some time but it looks like even as late as June there was no date set. We are missing the July, August and Septembers issues of News from Walt Disney World which became Eyes and Ears in October which we do have. What I am looking for is when and where the Party was first announced, the date or dates (there seems to be some question whether it was one date or several dates) and how the tickets were distributed. There are so many versions of the story out there that don't match that it has become a mission for me to try and find the official annoncement.

Dick Nunis was quoted saying the contractors refused to work on Labor Day so he personally authorised the Park opening on Labor Day with the Managers operating the Park to prove that they were willing to work even if the contractors were not. Mom says as far as she knows the contractors never refused to work and were just as committed to getting the job done as any Disney employee. Others have said the Park was open many days during September for employees, contractors, local business leaders and Politicians, that doesn't sound right either.

You haven't really said here when you worked there so I know this is a long shot but if you could shed any light on this I would appreciate it greatly. I would really like to find copies of the three issues we're missing of News from Walt Disney World but I have yet to see a single issue for sale or even a scanned copy of an issue on a web site, I guess not many people saved them. At some point when I get all Mom's stuff organised I would love to share it with the online community, Mom has some really unique pieces like No Tresspassing signs from some of the Real Estate companies that originally bought the land like Ayefore and Buena Vista Ranch etc.

Apologies for the lengthy post Thanks, Andy

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Cone

Hi Andy, Your mother's story would be great to hear about the pre opening days and just after Walt Disney World opened. I would keep looking for those documents at D23 shows and if they have one in Walt Disney World. Maybe Archives has a copy for you.The new Aulani reminds me a lot of River Country when it opened. More natural with all the elements and the storyline, than Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon. PD

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Thanks PD, I will keep looking. As soon as I get it into some sort of order I will be more than happy to share. Andy

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Cone

im 12 years old and never been to river country but im strangely absessed with it. stay at the campground( fort wilderness ) and we go to contempary to play at the pool and on the boat ride there i always look at the old abandened river country and think about how much fun it must have been back then. one day i thouht they should open it for tours

August 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkayla

I hope they open it again for more than tours, but more as an operational water park after they fix it's problems. Interesting that it was closed shortly after 9/11 happened, which seemed to affect Disney as well as everyone in our country.

August 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

We want river country back so much and discovery island. It feels like important classic elements are missing at bay lake now.also would love to see goofy water ski too! Lol! Why do we no longer have these things? , I know my children and grandchildren would appreciate it.

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCb

God its sad to see such a happy place abandoned like this. If I had the money, I would definitely fix this place back up because you'd easily make your money back in a year. I mean, a lot of memories were made here, and a lot of work was put into it, so come on Disney, don't let it decay and go to waste. Dig deep down into your heart and re-open this place because its the right thing to do.

May 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoshman501

The Guests at Wilderness Lodge would feel right at home in River Country if it were re-seasoned and brought back to life. It would be a greater addition to the swimming they have at present, with all the slides and flume activities. They could even ride the re-installed steam trains on their new extended route from the Lodge to River Country and on to Fort Wilderness and Pioneer Hall and back. A true Disney Yellowstone package.

River Country was closed in 2001 because of the, then new, state laws regarding water quality for attractions in which customers are "submerged". Since River Country's water supply was Bay Lake (A man-made lake with no natural circulation), with the exception of one swimming pool, it had to be closed, or completely re-configured to cut off access from the lagoon out to Bay Lake.

The cost of re-configuration was prohibitive, as would be any current attempt to update, upgrade, reconfigure and re-open the attraction.

The problems were not those of River Country itself, but of Bay Lake. As mentioned above, Bay Lake is a huge man-made lake. It has no natural inlet or outlet of flowing water, and has no means, other than boat traffic, of circulation. It is essentially a huge cesspool, festering with bacteria and parasites.

This is also the reason why swimming off the beaches at the Contemporary Resort has been prohibited. When swimmers enter/exit the water, and played in the shallow shore line, it stired the bottom sedaments, exagerating the problem of the stagnant water's bacteria levels.

Think about this: The water has been sitting stagnant for 40 plus years, with all the polutants that are in it from the boat traffic (oil/gas/diesel/exhaust), and run-off from the Parks (food/garbage/debris) and the bodily fluids {even if only ONE in 600 visitors pee'd in the lake, that's still close to 1,133,000 people! (estimated 680 MILLION visitors since 1971}...
...I'm surprised more people are not outraged by the conditions of Bay Lake, and that nothing has been done to make it a safer/healthier eco-system itself.

July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterImagineir

Yes 2001 was a very bad year with the 911 disaster which started many budget cutbacks at Disney in the fall. An example would be the closing of River Country and not wanting to put any money in it to fix the problems mentioned above like making the water system self contained and closed off from Bay Lake. It is possible with a designated achievable budget, as Disney has done in the past. Look at what they did with DCA.

July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

You know, looking at these pictures, it seems to me that Disney could easily open some sort of POTC-themed waterpark in this space.

I have fond memories of River Country. It was probably my favorite of the waterparks.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCallum Stewart

So over the past several years I have been experiencing dreams of a place I visited as a child. The dreams were so vivid, but I could never figure out where I had these experiences and began to believe the dreams were just my imagination. I remembered a large pond-like recreational area with zip lines, slides, and wooden tree house like structures surrounding the water. Today, 08/08/13 is the first time I discovered this part of your blog and realized I was dreaming of River Country!!! My parent's must have taken me there on our first trip to WDW in 1991. I am 32 years old now and can not consciously recall the visit, but I am certain I do when I dream. Isn't that what Disney World is all about? How Cool! Thank you for this posting this. You have no idea how good this made me feel!

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPat

Just reading about how long the Disneyland Submarine ride was closed down and the problems it had. I'm glad they found a way to bring it back even if it was not the right Nemo or Jules Verne theme the WDI design team really wanted. That gives me hope for River Country coming back. I hope more kids can have dreams with their parents of this special place in the future as Pat remembers above.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

Be the change is here! In honor of Throwback Thursday we start 'The River Country Revival Project. With the help of change.org, we have created a petition that you will be able to support with a click of a button and where you can add comments. Today, we start to make a difference and let your voice be heard and signature be signed. Please share with as many people and organizations and groups as possible. Let's make a BIG SPLASH! (pun intended)

August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDisney's Lifeguards

We just visited there and the boat driver told us that they had massive filtration systems in place for RC to clean the water for swimming, as well as they had a pump system that lifted the park above the water level (he didn't explain why this was necessary, but I assume because of the water filtration or runoff). After 911 and budget cuts were made, RC was one of them because it cost so much money to maintain the filtration and the pumps. He said it cost more to run RC in one day than Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach combined. It was then decided to permanently be closed a few years later. Discussions were made on tearing it down, but it was deemed too costly and too dangerous to do so (asbestos being one reason). So it will never be touched again. Anyway, that's what the boat driver said ... I don't know how much of it is true or not ...

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

I wonder how the petitions the WDW Lifeguards are having signed to reopen River Country are going? If they could just build a wall between the River Country lake and the river out front to close off the water and keep it self contained the pumps wouldn't have to work so hard.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

Why did they close it. I loved that park?

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfaackanders2@sbcglobal.net

Cheryl, We were just at disney and a veteran boat driver told us the same story about River Country. The water park was a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to go there in the 80's and be able to take my own daughter there before it closed. When we go camping at Ft. Wilderness, we love to take a walk down memory lane. It surely makes me take pictures in a whole different way. This past visit to Ft. Wilderness, it occurred to me that it is possible that WDW can close any of it's facilities down, including Ft. Wilderness. After looking at RC, it is an erie feeling to think of them doing the same thing to Ft. Wilderness.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Much like the Disney ABC " Lost" series, a new series called "9-11" could be filmed there. I have the rest of the treatment if Disney is interested. Done on property think of the savings.

April 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

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