12 May 2008

The wildest ride in the wilderness

I promised several friends and family members I would get back to my old stomping ground on my last trip and, true to my word, I made my way over to Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground for a few hours one morning and walked from one end of the property and back. To be fair, I should warn you now that the Fort Wilderness I found was not the Fort Wilderness I expected to find, and a good portion of this article may reflect my heartbreak. Now I understood there had been dramatic changes at Fort Wilderness since my younger years, but what I found did cause a slight quiver in my heart. The last remnants, at least those that I was aware of, of the Fort Wilderness Railroad tracks were gone or paved over, the majority of the underbrush was gone, the majority of the Lawnmower Tree had been removed to stop its growth, and the entire resort and campground had a cleaner, almost sanitized feel to it.

The issue concerning the campground’s underbrush and the addition of ID Cards to the Comfort Stations are both concerns I completely understand. There were criminal activities that Disney was trying to remove, and I applaud those efforts. For those of you that never saw Fort Wilderness as a complete wilderness, here is an image of my sister and me almost twenty years ago and another image of a sign (which I find hilarious) that I took a few weeks ago. If you examine the background of both images, you will see lush ground vegetation behind our tent and clean tree trunks behind the signpost. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, I am in complete agreement as to the reasoning behind this modification, but that does not change the fact that I feel something is missing now.
The little missing details almost took my breath away. Seeing the Lawnmower Tree hurt. I had read that the top of the tree had been removed in order to maintain the visibility of the lawnmower, but I don’t know that I was truly prepared for what it would feel like to see it. A few years ago I wrote a story about the Lawnmower Tree in the middle of the campground I grew up in, it was that distinct of a memory. Now, I try to hold onto that memory over the one I found in April. Seeing, or rather, not seeing, the railroad tracks was a shock. Very few people outside of the Disney community have ever known that there ever was a railroad within Fort Wilderness, but it was a treasured secret, it was the ability to see something and know the history of that place, and it was something special that has been erased from the landscape.

Yet, in the midst of all of these compositional changes, I think the one that caught me by surprise the most, and that hurt the most, was the changes to the structure of family trip to Fort Wilderness. There have always been RVs, trailers, and pop-up campers at Fort Wilderness, but in my youth they were always vastly outnumbered by the number of tents in the loops. Now, you are lucky to see a single tent to every ten RVs. Putting the visual aspect of this aside, the hum of generators and air conditioners all but mute the sounds of wildlife in the area. Now, putting all sensations aside, what was really missing were the tools, skills, and true experience that camping is. There were no fathers and sons with hammers and stakes pinning down a tent. There was very little, that I saw, in the ways of the communication it takes to set up a truly first-rate site. There was no getting back to basics which, in my opinion, is the hallmark of what Fort Wilderness is.

Fort Wilderness has changed, and that, in and of itself, is a fantastic thing. I would rather have change than to see my childhood erased or left to decay, as is visible in River Country and Discovery/Treasure Island. Along with these changes, came some positives as well. I cannot remember ever seeing the amount of flowers and landscaping within Fort Wilderness that I witnessed on this past visit. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ looks to be a fine addition too, though the gates were closed and I could only gain a glimpse around the fence, but it looked simple and rustic while modern and fun at the same time.

And while all of these changes were occurring, I found that some things will never change. The Meadows Trading Post still had the same smell to it that it had all those many years ago, the same wanted posters, though a little more faded, hanging on the walls outside, the same checkerboard, and the same collection of dry goods, souvenirs, and ice cream. I was still able to see families zooming around in golf carts, and remember my own times with the golf carts and all the stories they created. As mentioned prior, the campfire program and Electrical Water Pageant still continue on nightly, and are still the best resort entertainment past twilight. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, Crockett’s Tavern, and Trail’s End continue to provide hours of entertainment and more grub than you can fit in your gullet.It was, in the end, a homecoming. Homecomings, more often than not, remind us of what was and what we left and, more often than not, they remind us that there are reasons we left, reasons for change, and that the old adage is true, you can never truly go home again. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be stopping by to say hello every now and again for some movies under the stars, some friend chicken, and a stroll down Memory Lane.

I leave you tonight with this little piece of Fort Wilderness in support of you know who:


Greg said...

Save Passamaquoddy!

Unknown said...


I can feel your pain! You are fortunate to have some early memories of WDW. My biggest source of "sadness" when thinking about Disney is that there are some things my kids will never get to experience. Horizon. Both of my boys would have loved this ride. Neither has ridden Mission Space and probably won't for 5 more years.

Just another reason to go often ;) and take pictures, enjoy being there with friends/family and soaking it all in!

Doc Terminus said...

What a great reminiscence. Thanks alot... I'm considering a weekend stay with my tent soon, something out of the question for the past ten years...

As for Doctor Terminus... They'll never find me here!

Craig Wheeler said...

What a great look. It is so true about things changing and never being able to go home.

Your comments about the RVs vs. tents are interesting. This seems to me a change in the consumer rather than the corporation, but it would definitely lend a different feel to the area.

DD said...

This was a great and interesting blog. We're going over to the smores-fest with C&D this trip (our first time at Ft. Wilderness).

I miss Toad's Wild Ride. I literally only wnat to go to Disneyland so I can ride this again. My poor hubby never got to ride it.

Looking forward to following you in the future. I just opened my own blogspot specifically about planning wdw trips. Would love any of your imput. its www.tipsfromthedisneydiva.blogspot.com


Unknown said...


I rode the DL version a month ago and it was great to experience it again. If you want to read a very intelligent and thought-provoking essay about Mr. Toad, then check out FoxxFur's amazing Passport 2 Dreams blog.


I think Ryan and DOC will agree with me--FoxxFur has written so of the smartest essays about Disney anywhere on the net.

Greg said...

Foxx holds a Ph.D. in Disney! Just clicking on her blog will raise your IQ five points.

But concerning Ryan's visit, it would hurt me also to see so few tents. I always pitched my tent on Spanish Moss Trail. While change is good, it always helps to hold to some of what got to where we are. And the rustic nature of camping is something we lose as the RV's continue to grow.

Sometime soon I may need to plan a drive trip and camp in Fort Wilderness while there are a few tent sites still left.

Ryan, thanks for the memories and...

Save Passamaquoddy!

Ryan P. Wilson said...

FoxxFur's essays are more than worthy of attention and careful study. She knows her stuff.

doc t - What I wouldn't give to be able to tromp over on a weekend and set up a tent.

George - Not to fill you with even more sadness, but can you imagine the joys our children have theat their children will miss out on. Just as Walt Disney World is different for us than it is, or will be, for our children, I don't imagine that it will be the same in a generation either. Then we will be the old-timers talking about the bygone days.

Craig - You're absolutely right! I may have been a little vague in the retrospective, but I firmly believe that this facet of Fort Wilderness' change is due to the populace and their priorities, rather than Walt Disney World. I'm just happy I still see more tents than anything else here in Western North Carolina!

Doc - From the sounds of it, you, Glenn, and I need to plan a trip to get back to as much nature and WDW still provides.

Krissy - Thanks for the kind words, and welcome to the mad mad world that is Disney blogging. There are some fantastic people here, and I cannot wait to see what you have in store for us!

Princess Fee said...

What a beautiful post - it was interesting to read about the Fort Wilderness that you had experienced during your childhood. My first visit to WDW was when I was 8, and I can remember things back then that are so different now. There are things nowadays, too, that I know by the time I have children and take them there, they will be different or, worse yet, replaced or removed.
A really lovely post, with a tinge of sadness.

Anonymous said...

Ft. Wilderness was the only place my family ever stayed when visiting WDW (I did ride the rail road and also the trams that ran instead of busses- same ones from the Transportation and Ticket Center log). I had the opportunity to spend a few hours there about 3 weeks ago and did exactly what you did... walked... walked everywhere. This time I was with my own son. I was also struck at how barren everything was, but I think that some of it could be due to hurricane damage from a few years back. Riding the monorail to Epcot, I noticed quite a few trees that had toppled and hadn't been cleaned up. I was already prepared for the Lawn Mower Tree. What struck me was that the totem poles were gone from the Trading Post next to Pioneer Hall and that the playgrounds had been made "safer". I did enjoy rediscovering the little things that I remembered as a kid and didn't think anyone else ever noticed. There were a lot of ghosts there.