03 March 2016

America's First Official Water Park

A lot of time when we’re looking back at the history of Walt Disney World we like to go back to the early days of an attraction, area, resort, restaurant, etc. Back to a time when no one really knew what to expect and anticipation was high. In this way we see what the progression of time did for a given space, or lament what might have been, was, or isn’t there any longer. While today we are looking back at an extinct crowd pleaser, it is from a very different lens.

This view is of River Country, more specifically the Slippery Slide Falls attraction of Walt Disney World’s first water park. Let’s give the photograph from March of 2001 a chance to speak for itself: 
AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION TURNS 25 -- Disney’s River Country opens for the summer swimming season in April, marking a milestone 25th anniversary for American’s first official water park. The popularity of River Country, located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, spurred two additional water parks -- Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach -- making Walt Disney World Resort the water park capital of America.
This photograph may, in fact, be the last promotional image ever produced for River Country. The park would celebrate its 25th anniversary beginning in April of 2001 and then close in November of that year. Disney wouldn’t official announce the permanent closure of the park until 2005, but it would not open up the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole again after 2001.

There is no argument that it did not have the capacity or larger thrills to attract guests in the same way that Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon did at the time and have continued to do since. In fact, River Country could have likely closed earlier than 2001 with only die-hard fans taking notice. Considering there had been two behemoth water parks on Walt Disney World property since 1995, there is no doubt that River Country continued on for so long, was given a proper send off in its 25th year,  and no official word was announced for another four due to the fact that the place occupied a special place in the hearts of many within the ranks of Walt Disney World.

Fifteen years on since this photograph first made its way to publication, and River Country still remains closed, in a dilapidated state, with no word of what will become of the space. In some ways it is hard to believe the park has been gone for that long and, in other ways, it seems as if it has been gone for much longer. No matter what lens you use to view the life and times of River Country, it’s still fun to dream about what was and what could be for this very special corner of the Vacation Kingdom.


Unknown said...

I don't remember Water Country's water being blue. It was essentially the lake water, which is what closed it down, if I'm not mistaken.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Hi Jeffrey,

While a majority of River Country's attractions did empty out into the main swimming hole area that was park of Bay Lake, there was another section that was enclosed and concreted like a regular swimming pool, which is where this photo was taken.

As for the park closing, there were actually several reasons that accounted for the closure, but there were two that really stood out. First, there were changes in Florida laws about the amoeba in freestanding lakes, as you mentioned. Another of the critical reasons for closure was that guest attendance, not just at River Country, but all of Walt Disney World, was in a state of major decline after the September 11th attacks. I hope that helps!