When you think of Walt Disney World, you probably think of a few things: Cinderella’s Castle, maybe a few of the Magic Kingdom’s iconic sights, perhaps a few things from its other parks, like Disney-MGM Studios’ Tower of Terror ride, or the Epcot globe. You probably don’t think of a decrepit, decaying, abandoned ghost park, though, do you?
But that’s exactly what happened to River Country, the first-ever water park of WDW. From June 20th, 1976 to September 1st, 2001, River Country offered guests a rustic sort of escape (or as rustic as one could get in a man-made park in the middle of Orlando). Think an old-fashioned swimming hole feel meets with a bit of a Huckleberry Finn twist. It was charming, country, and homey. This was its layout:
And…this is what it looks like now:
A lot changed in just under a decade (these photos were first taken in 2009)…
So what happened? In a word, death. And lots of it.
See, the park used fresh water. Disney Imagineers (that’s engineers with a Disney twist) devised a brilliant filtration system that utilized the sandy bottom of the park and the water from nearby Bay Lake, which was then dammed to create the natural look of the lagoon.
But even with the filtration system in place, the choice to use natural fresh water resulted in a deadly mistake: An 11-year-old boy was killed in 1980 when he contracted primary amoebic meningoencephalitis from amoebas found in the non-chemically treated water of River Country. And that disease, while extremely rare, is, well…it’s pretty nasty, with a fatality rate of over 95%.
Still, despite the tragedy, that wasn’t quite enough for River Country to be completely abandoned…
If one death was cause for worry, then it was widespread death that was the end of River Country. Specifically, the tragedy of 9/11.
Despite the bigger, fancier, and more modern Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks opening a few years prior, River Country was still holding on and doing enough business to stave off the competition…even though business was dwindling year by year. Think of it as a TV series that avoids being cancelled every year by only by the slimmest of margins.
But when the September 11 attacks happened, the fear of travelers about flying in the aftermath of the tragedy decimated Walt Disney World’s business. With all its more popular parks and hotels being affected with a decline in attendance, the decision was made to shutter River Country for the 2002 season. It never opened again.
So all of that is understandable, but it begs the question: Why didn’t Disney simply tear town the park when it was clear it would never reopen, rather than let it simply rot away? Is it cheaper to let the humidity and swampland that sits under all of Walt Disney World property degrade and break down the park? Do they think it might one day be resurrected or salvaged? Either way, the result is eerie.
And one last shot, this one a close-up look at what might have been a display inside one of the buildings…
One more pic before you go off to bed…just a creepy doll’s head for absolutely no reason.