Disney’s River Country opened in June 1976. Fashioned with an “ol’ swimmin’ hole” theme, it was Walt Disney World’s (WDW’s) first water park. Housed at the far end of Fort Wilderness, not far from Pioneer Hall and just steps away from the current-day Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, it featured a lake with a sandy bottom and a unique water filtering system that used confluent water from the adjacent Bay Lake (which was dammed off), creating a natural-looking man-made lagoon. The park’s water was at a higher level than the lake’s, which was an effort to prevent lake water from going directly into the park.
River Country had 12 attractions:
- Upstream Plunge, a kidney shaped clean-water pool.
- Slippery Slide Falls, two water slides that emptied into Upstream Plunge.
- Kiddie Cove, a kids zone with two large water slides and a cove. This area was targeted toward preteens.
- Barrel Bridge, a bumpy bridge with barrels under it, similar to the one at Tom Sawyer Island.
- White Water Rapids, a 330-foot (100 m) long inner tube ride.
- Bay Cove, a half-acre (2,000 m²) sand-bottom lake which featured a tire swing, boom swing, rope climb, and T-bar drop.
- Boom Swing
- Cable Ride
- Tire Swing
- Whoop ‘n’ Holler Hollow, two water slides, 260 ft (79 m) and 160 ft (49 m) long, that emptied into Bay Cove.
- Bay Bridge
- Indian Springs, a very small splash zone with fountains that sprayed kids. This area was mainly designed for guests under age 8.
- Cypress Point Nature Trail, a trail among trees beside Bay Lake.
- Pony Rides
- Mercury WaterMouse Rental
With the advent of the opening of two larger, more modern water parks at WDW, Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995, River Country’s days were surely numbered and indeed, after the closing of the 2001 season (WDW’s water parks traditionally close in the wintertime, one at a time, to allow for maintenance and refurbishment), the park never reopened. They simply fenced it off and put up No Trespassing signs.
Much like the nearby Discovery Island, which was closed in 1999 and essentially abandoned (click here to see video of the ruins of the park in modern-day times), River Country has been allowed to sit and languish.
Want to see more pics? Click here for a couple dozen photos of River Country during its heyday and subsequent demise, courtesy of the Orlando Weekly.
In 2016, Disney announced plans to drain and fill in Upstream Plunge, the 330,000 gallon clear water pool, but said nothing else about the rest of the park (note: as shown below, this photo from 2017 suggests that the pool was indeed filled in, as evidenced by the plethora of weeds growing out of the surface. Older photos show the pool only partially filled with murky water).
In 2018, Disney officials filed permits for a new mysterious development called “Project 89” to built along Bay Lake and over the former River Country site. Rumors were that the project would turn into another themed Disney hotel resort or Disney Vacation Club timeshare. Of course, we don’t know if, when or what will happen with that. But if you want to see video of what River Country looks like now, you only have to look here (heads up that there is a bit of adult language in the video).
As always, we don’t condone this urban explorer, who risked not only his safety and possibly his life, but also his ability to ever step foot on Disney property again – they have trespassed people for less. But as someone who loved her one and only visit to River Country in Sept. 1991, I have to admit that watching the video was kind of cool, albeit in a horrific sort of way. 😉
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