River Country was The Walt Disney World Resort’s first original themed water park, way before Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach ever made their entrance into the water park arena. It was opened on June 2o, 1976 on the banks of Bay Lake near The Fort Wilderness Camp Ground. It was themed as an old fashioned “swimmin hole” similar to what you’d read about in a Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer novel. Disney’s first water park contained a number of activities:
Kiddie Cove ( a kids zone with two large water slides and a cove targeted at preteens. This area was targeted toward preteens)
Barrel Bridge ( a bumpy bridge with barrels under it, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.)
Indian Springs (a very small splash zone with fountains spraying kids primarily for guests under 8.)
Cypress Point Nature Trail (a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.)
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The swimming area had a sandy bottom and had a unique filtration system that used water from Bay Lake and filtered it for the various pools, slides and lazy river. The water park area was created by damning off a part of Bay Lake to create the swimmin hole. Even with its unique filtration system, there were always issues with water purification due to everything coming directly from Bay Lake.
In 1977, The Wonderful World of Disney even has an episode, The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World which included a song, “River Country”.
In August of 1980, a young boy passed away from amoebic meningoencephalitis. Which is a free-living amoeba, that attacks the nervous system and brain..His parents said that he contracted the amoeba while swimming at Walt Disney World’s River Country although health officials stated that there was no reason to blame Disney World for the tragedy, because the amoeba can breed in almost any freshwater lake during hot weather. No other cases of amoebic meningoencephalitis were ever linked to Disney’s River Country. Despite the young man’s death, Walt Disney World’s River Country stayed remained open for another 21 years!
In 1989, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon opened as The Walt Disney World resort’s second water park. In 1995, The Walt Disney World Resort’s thrid water park, Blizzard Beach opened up. While both of these new water parks were much larger, had more parking, and were easier to get to, Disney’s River Country continued to stay open to limited success.
At the end of the 2001 water park season, Walt Disney’s River Country closed as usual with the expectation that it would reopen again in the Spring of 2002 for the new season. During that time, the United States experienced the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the entire country suffered a severe decrease in tourism travel, which affected every resort in the country. During that off season, Walt Disney World spokesman Bill Warren announced that River Country could be reopened if “there’s enough guest demand.” Sadly, it never reopened.
Another major change which also led to Disney’s River Country demise was a change in the Florida state laws which prohibited un-chlorinated natural water bodies from being used for water park attractions. River Country never reopened and remains abandoned as a forgotten Disney relic as of today. The park remains where it was, over grown and unused to this day. While Disney employees monitor the area for trespassers one can search YouTube for a number of videos of guests who have managed to enter the abandoned park and show how it looks today.
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