Deep in the woods of the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground at Walt Disney World, there sits a classic, rugged gem. That gem is known as Disney’s River Country, every young pioneer’s dream escape! River Country was the first water park built at Disney World, opening on June 20, 1976. The park consisted of 2 pools, 5 water slides such as the Slippery Slide Falls and the Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, as well as 2 children’s areas. River Country was designed to represent a rustic, western wilderness complete with man-made rocks and boulders. Originally titled “Pop’s Willow Grove”, this Huckleberry Finn styled “ol’ swimming hole” was sure to be a splash for young adventurers! Only time would be able to tell of River Country’s unfortunate permanent closing in November of 2001.
In a 1977 Wonderful World of Disney episode titled, “The Mousketeers at Disney World”, the water park was featured along with a song called “River Country”. The Mousketeer line up of the late 70s, was seen in this episode, enjoying the parks attractions. Disney was able to combine a unique water filtering system of their own with water from the adjoining Bay Lake. The lake was dammed off to create a natural looking man-made lagoon.
Frighteningly, on August 22, 1980 an 11-year-old boy passed away after he had contracted Naegleria Fowleri while swimming at Disney’s River Country. This event may or may have not aided in the parks closure. Both River Country and Discovery Island, another Disney water park, are the only two Disney parks in history to be closed permanently. Instead of demolishing these parks they have been left to disintegrate, making them prime locations for adventurers and urban explorers alike.
Also aiding in the closure of River Country was the construction of two new water parks, Typhoon Lagoon (built 1989) and Blizzard Beach (built 1995). Both water parks had newer amenities, bigger and better slides and offered much more parking space. As River Country closed at the end of the warm weather season in November 2001, Disney had every intention to reopen in the spring of 2002. However, come April 11, 2002 the Orlando Sentinel stated that River Country had closed and may not reopen. Unless there was enough guest demand River Country would remain closed, as Disney World spokesman Bill Warren had established shortly thereafter.
Disney released an official statement in 2005, that River Country would in fact be permanently closed and never reopen. Permits for a mysterious development known as “Project 89” were filed by Disney on March 5, 2018. “Project 89” is rumored to be a Disney themed Hotel Resort or Disney Vacation Club (DVC) timeshare property, as reported on March 12, 2018. If this project does go through, the new development is estimated to open to the public in 2021, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World.
With just a few months left before demolition begins, any last minute explorers will find a simple apology posted along the abandoned fences of the park, reading “Sorry River Country is closed”. Once demolished, any traces of River Country will forever be erased along with the craftsmanship, dream and history of Walt Disney World’s first water park.
Article By – Sonti Carl