The Rise, Fall, and Decay of Walt Disney World’s River Country

Brianna Noto, Editor

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Walt Disney World is known as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. It consists of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping district and entertainment center, with

about 30 hotels. Disney is most known for its spotless appearance and amazing guest experience, so it would surprise many people that there is a waterpark rotting there today.

On June 20, 1976, Walt Disney World opened up it’s first ever water park, River Country. The park was located near Fort Wilderness Resort and averaged about 4,700 guests per day. River Country  was “Tom Sawyer swimmin’ hole” themed and was one of the first themed water parks ever built. River Country was created in response to the oil shortages of the 70s that damaged the Florida tourist market at the time. The water park was built to draw in locals and persuade travelers to book a multi-day stay.

There was a pool with slides, as well as slides that went into a natural lake. As cool as this idea may have seemed in the beginning, it posed problems later on. In 1982 and 1989, 2 boys drowned while swimming in the lake. Aside from that, on August 22 1980, an 11 year old boy died of Amoebic Meningoencephalitis after swimming in the lake in River Country. Traces of this was found in the natural lake in the park.

By 1989, Disney had 2 more themed water parks. Typhoon Lagoon opened on June 1, 1989 and Blizzard Beach opened on April 1, 1995. After these parks opened, River Country was in competition with its sister parks, mostly because of the size and maximum capacity. To put it in perspective,  River Country was 10% the size of Disney’s other water park, Typhoon Lagoon and could only hold around 4,000 guests per day.

River Country was open for 25 summers before it closed its doors in September 2001. Now, the park still stands at the edge of Fort Wilderness, as nature reclaims it. It is so overgrown and rotted that it would take a great deal of demolition before Disney could rehabilitate it. There have been multiple rumors of a new resort taking the place of the abandoned waterpark, however no official plans have been released.