|By Keith Mahne|
Disney's River Country was the first water park at Walt Disney World. It opened on June 20, 1976 and ceased operations on September 30th, 2001. On January 20, 2005, The Walt Disney Company announced that River Country would remain closed permanently. Along with Discovery Island, it is one of only two Disney parks in history to close permanently and both parks were abandoned rather than demolished. Let' take a look back at Walt Disney World's very first water park as we remember River Country in today's featured article...
Positioned on the shore of Bay Lake, Disney's River Country featured a rustic wilderness theming, complete with rocks and man-made boulders. It was described as an "old-fashioned swimming hole" with "a twist of Huckleberry Finn". The original working title was "Pop's Willow Grove".
River Country was featured in a musical number from the 1977 The Wonderful World of Disney episode "The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World", which included a song titled "River Country" and featured the then-current Mouseketeer lineup from the late 70s incarnation of The Mickey Mouse Club enjoying the attractions at the park. You can watch that wonderful episode in its entirety below:
Here’s how the 1976 Annual Report to the shareholders of Walt Disney Productions described River Country:
Six Acres of aquatic fun await visitors to River Country, which opened at Walt Disney World’s Ft. Wilderness Campgrounds last June. As many as 4,700 guests per day have already enjoyed its Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole, white water rapids, raft rides, rope swings, beaches or a plunge down a 260-foot, 2,000 gallon a minute water slide called Whoop ‘N Holler Hollow.
The park featured a sandy bottom and unique water filtering system using confluent water from adjacent Bay Lake, which was dammed off creating a natural-looking man-made lagoon. But even with the filtration system, the water from the lake was not completely purified. In 1980, an 11 year old boy contracted a deadly amoeba, which is found in warm bodies of fresh water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs.
In 1989, Disney opened a new water park, Typhoon Lagoon. It had much more parking, many more slides, newer amenities, and was a much larger water park. In 1995, Disney opened their third water park, Blizzard Beach. River Country was much smaller than the other two water parks, yet the park remained, surviving the competition.
As it did every year, River Country closed at the end of the warm-weather season (the park closed on September 30th, 2001), with the expectation that the water park would reopen in the spring of 2002. But after the 9/11 attacks, the decline in business for all Disney parks and hotels prompted Disney to halt the reopening of River Country. On April 11, 2002, the Orlando Sentinel reported, “Walt Disney World’s first water park, River Country, has closed and may not reopen.” The report concluded with this line: “Disney World spokesman Bill Warren said that River Country could be reopened if ‘there’s enough guest demand.’” The attraction may also have been affected by a change in Florida laws, which prohibited non-chlorinated natural water bodies from being used for water park attractions. River Country never reopened.
Here is some home footage of Disney's River Country from 1981 that you might enjoy:
Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.