During its first summer of operation, Walt Disney World’s original swimming hole, River Country, garnered visits and attention from guests, media, and even Cast Members looking to splash around and relax. There were also those who wondered just how River Country worked as a cove of Bay Lake, but still managed to keep to water fresh and moving. A simple, yet inspired, solution was created to give River Country its cascading rivulets and churning pond.
State of the art pumps in the mid-1970s were ineffectual at keeping the million gallons of water in River Country from becoming stagnant, much less to get needed flow up to the top of White Water Rapids and Whoop-‘N-Holler Hollow. Engineers figured out a system that would utilize the functions of Mother Nature, i.e. gravity, and the most modern technology to make the park a reality. This great diagram from the August 20, 1976 Eyes and Ears, shows off just how the feat was accomplished.
The rubber bladder that separates the swimming area from Bay Lake is the key to the entire operation. The tube stretches across the entirety of the cove’s mouth along with its sensory device that can pump water in or drain water out as needed. The sensor fills the bladder until it is filled enough to float six inches above the surface of the lake. As water levels drop, the sensor automatically activates the drainage system will ensure that the bladder stays at the six inch mark.
As for the water movement itself, an intake pipe deep out in Bay Lake pulls in water and moves it along the lake bottom. Once inside the boundary of River Country’s cove, the pipe makes its way to the base of the waterslide hill. From here the water is pumped up to troughs at the top of the slides, which is then careens back down the hill in the flumes towards the swimming area. The churning of the water, not to mention the guests tubing, zip lining, tire swinging, and cannonballing into the main swimming area causes water to splash out of the cove, over the bladder, and back into Bay Lake. From there the process could start all over again.
With 8,500 gallons of water moving through the attractions each minute, is it any wonder that River Country had to break the mold on design and engineering to bring the old fashioned swimming hole into the 20th Century?