Disney World’s first water park, River Country, opened in 1976. It was, to quote Disney press material at the time, “the kersplashingest, kid laughingest, slippery slidingest, raft ridingest, rope swingingest, swan divingest, summer swimmingest, sun snoozingest, picnickingest, old-fashioned, good, clean wet American fun you’ve ever had,” with five water slides and two pools.
River Country closed in 2001, becoming one of only two parks in Disney history to permanently cease operations, the other being Treasure Island-turned-Discovery Island. The reasons were numerous — including Disney building bigger and better attractions in Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach; the decline in tourism after 9/11; an 11-year-old dying from a “rare but deadly disease” that he likely came in contact with at River Country; and Florida cracking down on attractions that used unchlorinated water from lakes. Since 2005, when Disney announced the park would never open again, its only visitors have been security guards looking out for trespassers.
Apparently they didn’t do a good enough job, because photographer Seph Lawless managed to sneak in and take pictures of the rotting relic. Lawless wrote on his website that he visited River Country 40 years after it opened because “I wanted to capture powerful images that would show this eerie, abandoned Disney park, but I wanted it to be absolutely beautiful at the same time.” Can a “Hollow” really “Whoop ‘n’ Holler” when there’s no one to ride it?
“So Disney is upset at me,” Lawless (who’s since been banned from visiting Disney World) commented on Instagram, “but why do they get so upset any time someone gets too close to the abandoned Discovery Island? What are you hiding Disney?” Every existing copy of Song of the South, presumably. It’s a shame, too, because even the most jaded adult wants to visit River Country.
(Via Seph Lawless)