Monday, October 18, 2010

River Country, June 1982

Today's photos are from Walt Disney World in Florida. I didn't recognize this water park, but Chris (aka TokyoMagic! from the Meet The World blog) was his usual helpful self and identified the location as River Country. It was part of the Fort Wilderness Resort - the ultimate swimmin' hole, with rock formations and plenty of trees and other rustic details. It's almost like it was discovered rather than built. I think it looks amazing; what a great place to go on those hot Florida summer days. But it was smaller than the other two water parks at WDW, and apparently less popular.

River Country was closed in 2001, never to reopen. Follow this link to see photos of it as it looks today, and prepare to weep.

Many thanks once again to TokyoMagic! for his help.


TokyoMagic! said...

There's some pretty good footage of River Country in a 1977 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney titled, "The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World" (Link) But it looks like today, River Country would be a Disney lawyer's nightmare.

stu29573 said...

Great video Tokyo! Its not exactly my favorite song of all time, but River Country looks like it was a blast. I have always heard that it was closed due to health reasons, but I can't swear to it... More likely it was just overshadowed by the two bigger water parks...

DKoren said...

Boy, is there anything as lost and forlorn as a deserted amusement park? Thanks for the happy hey-day pictures! I've never been to any of the water parks, but this one looks like it would have been fun.

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

These photos are pretty and fun, unlike today's version! Why did they just leave it to rot? Those 1/2 empty pools are going to give me nightmares!!!!!

Nice WDW post Major!

JG said...

In my youth, this was how I envisioned heaven.

I won't click on the today link, I don't want to know how it ended.

Thanks Major.


Major Pepperidge said...

Thanks for the YouTube link! When I win the lottery my backyard is going to have a swimmin' hole just like River Country!!

Chuck said...

I clicked on the link and was beyond dismayed. Something should be done about the old place - it's a public safety hazard. Places like that breed supervillains.

This place was AWESOME the one time I went at age 10. The whole family had a blast - together. That week in 1979 is still one of our mutual favorite memories.

The Mousketeer episode was one high point of a 3-year guerrilla campaign to influence my parents to take us to WDW. I can vividly remember Nita tying a tent line or something to a vehicle bumper before it drove away, taking the object with it and earning the wrath of the other Museketeers and their handler, played by Ronnie Schell. I had a crush on Nita and felt her pain.

The photos of River Country as it looks today were sad, and yet I was intrigued. The person who took them had a chance to do some "theme park archaeology," and that's kind of fun.

Fort Wilderness is huge, and the possibility of stumbling on or exploring abandoned things in its acreage is fairly good. Aside from River Country, there's the abandoned right-of-way for the Ft Wilderness Railroad, and Treasure/Discovery Island sits gracefully decaying offshore, tantalizingly just out of reach. And anyone who has been to Pioneer Hall and seen the Lawnmower Tree knows that it's not all Disney detritus, either. People lived and worked here long before the Florida Project began.

I had an opportunity to walk and photograph the old right-of-way of the Ft Wilderness Railroad in 1998, crossing one of the two rotting and, to be frank, perfectly frightening wooden bridges that were still standing 20-some years after the last train crossed them. This was before I had acquired a copy of "Walt Disney's Railroad Story" by Michael Broggie, and I had a great time unearthing clues about what had been there.

It was a really amazing experience, tracking down and talking with long-time employees to learn where to start looking, renting a canoe to find the bridges, and then just setting off into the backcountry on foot to walk (and sometimes crawl) the overgrown roadbed. Solving the puzzle was half of the fun. It was a day well spent. And I took pictures.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my slide collection with me to Iraq, so I'll have to wait until I get home to scan them. If there's any interest (indeed, if anyone stayed with this long, rambling, stream-of-consciousness narrative long enough to read this sentence), I'll be happy to share.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, thanks for the great comment! i love the idea of exploring some of these abandoned areas, even though I wish that they *weren't* abandoned of course. Are you allowed to just walk the old Ft. Wilderness RR track, or did you have to get permission?

I had no idea you are in Iraq. What they can't do with the internets! Stay safe....!

Chuck said...

At least as of 12 years ago, most of it was accessible and required no permission to get to, but a lot of it wouldn't be obvious if you didn't know what you were looking for.

Some of the old right-of-way near the campground entrance had been converted into a horse path. I found that by noticing a 4-foot-wide patch running at a right angle across a road that covered where an old grade crossing had been. A portion that ran behind campsites and along Big Pine Road is now a walking path. And some of it just isn't there anymore, covered by the horse stables.

There were at least two of the stations left. The one by the horse stables near the entrance was converted to a bus stop. There's another one fairly close to Pioneer Hall. They were just open platform shelters, nothing fancy, but they were still there.

I found RR crossing signal lights that had been mounted in the ground and re-purposed into spotlights for signage. That was one of those fun finds.

There was a section cutting across a field east of Big Pine Trail where they'd left the ties but pulled up the rails. A current satellite photo shows that doesn't appear to be there anymore, although I can see a curved line marking where it was.

The largest portion that was still there in its abandoned state was along one of the canals. It was just left there to decay, rails, ties, roadbed and all. It was tough going with lots of brush and small trees growing in it. I came out of there sporting a tick.

I don't remember any signs saying "keep out" at the point where I stumbled on it, although there was a "keep off" sign on the "civilization" side of the bridge I crossed at the end of that hike. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the sign when I found it, and there was no way I was going back across that rickety old thing to exit elsewhere.

From looking at the satellite image, it appears that bridge is gone, which from a liability perspective was probably a good thing. The last thing they need is some knuckle-headed, amateuer theme park archaeologist who's forgotten his whip and lucky hat plummeting into the canal off of a collapsing bridge.

Nancy said...

i have never been to a WDW water park despite our many visits (16 so far). i am not "into" swimming and the only time we ever did was at the feeling is that i didnt go all that way to do something i can do here!

i always wanted to take Rachel to River Country but she was too small to go to one of them with the big crowds they attract, and by the time she was big enough this one had closed :(

these are great pictures of a very good time. i am going to forgo the weeping. thanks for posting them :)

Susan Fabrizio said...

Not sure if anyone commented on this: From what I read, the park was closed due to new after laws and water park problems. Disney decide to close instead of a massive overhaul.