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River Country
The Ol' Swimmin' Hole

 This water park opened on five acres at a corner of Bay Lake near Cypress Point at Fort Wilderness on June 20, 1976.  It was officially opened by Gerald Ford's daughter Susan and was designed to be like the type of swimming hole you'd imagine in a Mark Twain novel.  According to Disney press releases, gravity kept the millions of gallons of water fresh in River Country.  A giant flexible tube at the mouth of the Ol' Swimmin' Hole opened into Bay Lake and served as a "bladder" as it expanded and contracted to keep the River Country water level six inches higher than the lake.  This was accomplished through the use of a special sensor system.  
 Water from Bay Lake was pumped through the inside of River Country's artificial mountain to the top of the flumes and raft ride at the rate of 8,500 gallons a minute.  Following the principle that gravity causes water to seek its own level, the River Country water spilled over the top of the tube back into Bay Lake and provided circulation in the water.  There were natural sand beaches underfoot instead of the concrete found at a regular waterpark.
 Fred Joerger, who did rock work on attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain and Tom Sawyer Island designed the rocks at River Country and scattered them with pebbles from streambeds in Georgia and the Carolinas.  

Attractions

 River Country had several different sections.  The Ol' Swimmin' Hole was also known as Bay Cove and held 330,000 gallons of water.  It was actually a part of Bay Lake and had rope swings and a ship's boom.  The Ol' Wadin' Pool (later referred to as Kiddie Cove) was especially for small children and had its own beach, grassy ground with picnic tables, and a squirting fountain for splashing around.  The oversize 160-foot swimming pool at the Upstream Plunge was heated in the winter and was home to a pair of 16 foot water slides called the Slippery Slide Falls.  Riders were dropped into the water from a height of about seven feet.  Whoop 'n' Holler Hollow was home to two flumes slides that were 260 and 160 feet long and Raft Rider Ridge was home to White Water Rapids.  You could bring a picnic to River Country or you could buy a snack at Pop's Place.  During peak times, a smaller stand called the Waterin' Hole also operated.  The beach shop at River Country was known as River Relics.


The Demise of River Country

 River Country proved to be very popular and the limited capacity led to many sold out days.  The success of the Huck Finn-inspired swimming hole led to the construction of Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.  So why is it now in Walt Dated World?   There are several theories for the closing of River Country.  Even though the park was popular during the hot summer months, the majority of the water was unheated.  Because of this, River Country would often close for refurbishment in early fall when it became cooler or it would be closed during the middle of the week.  
 Rising admission prices and the addition of two larger water parks on Disney property may have made many visitors feel that River Country was no longer a good value for the price of a ticket compared to the limited number of things to do there.  
 Disney tried to rectify this problem in 1998 when it offered what it called the All-American Water Party.  This seasonal event celebrated every day as the Fourth of July.  Games such as sack races, tug-o-war, and a water balloon toss were offered and Disney characters would dance as a country band played during a "good ol' fashioned barbeque."  The official closing date for River County was September 1, 2001.  River Country is still in place but is walled off from Fort Wilderness visitors.  There have been rumors that it may reopen someday exclusively for Fort Wilderness guests.  

All-American Water Party Photos

(Thanks to Linda Kaye Jonas, who formerly worked as a hair wrapper at River Country for these photos of the Water Party, The Praire Drifters with Pluto and the empty beach after the chairs were removed.)





River Country Prices
 There was a charge for locker and towel rentals.  In 1991, towels cost 50 cents and increased to $1.00 by 2002.  Lockers in 1997 cost between $3 to $5 dollars, depending on the size, plus a $2 deposit.  The price had jumped to $4 to $6 dollars plus $2 deposit by 2001.  For a sample of River Country ticket prices through the years, check out the Transportation and Ticket Center.

New Mickey Mouse Club River Country Song
The November 20, 1977 episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" was a show called "The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World."  This show featured the cast of "The New Mickey Mouse Club" and is a MUST see for all Walt Dated World fans.  One of the highlights included footage of the Mouseketeers at River Country and featured probably the only song ever written about a water park.  Sheet music was even made for this song.

River Country.  Big River Country.  
It's a hoot.  It's a holler!  It's a water jamboree!
River Country.  Big River Country.
If you're hot around the collar it's the cool place to be.

River Country.  Big River Country.
Let 'er rip.  What a drip!  It's a dandy.  It's a beaut.
River Country.  Big River Country.
You can shed your cares over there, but not your bathing suit.

You can slip.
You can slide.
You can zip.
You can dive.
In River Country everyone's a friend.

You can swing from a limb.
You can sink.  
You can swim.
It's a day you'll remember when you're freezin' in December.

River Country.  Big River Country.
There's a lot about it, to brighten up your soul.
River Country.  Big River Country.
Come and join us for a visit to the ol' swimmin' hole.

Memories of a Former Cast Member
 William Clayton from Jacksonville, Florida shared the following information:  "I started at River Country in 1976 and have fond memories of working there.  We hosted many famous people at River Country, including Peter Marshall and of course the New Mouseketeers.  I was working at River Country when the New Mouseketeers filmed ďBig River CountryĒ.  I invited my wife that day and we both appear in the film although at a very long distance from the camera. If you happen to watch the special, thereís one quick scene thatís a very long shot which was taken using a crane.  In the far distance there are two people on the boardwalk, a man and a woman, the man in red bathing trunks and white shirt, the woman in street clothing.  If you look very closely you can see them.  Thatís me and my first wife. One of the Mouseketeer girls took a shine to my son and spent the entire day with him.
 I remember that Walt Disney World had a toll free phone number, 1-800-W-DISNEY and phone calls at the park were a quarter.  Towel rental and lockers at River Country were also twenty five cents.  Outside the main entrance to River Country were three birds -macaws, I think, and at least one parrot.  We named them Busch, Bud, and Michelob.
 Our supervisor at River Country was Joe Tracy, young but a very nice man.  We also had an assistant supervisor named Bernie, a heavy set fellow with black hair, who protected us all from belligerent guests, ha-ha.  All the plants were new then, and the place was always kept exceptionally clean (I worked custodial).  We did not, at that point, have a souvenir stand nor did we sell beer, which came later, called Popís Junior, as I recall.
 When I started at Walt Disney World,  I was paid $2.35 per hour which was above minimum wage, as I recall, and our health insurance was wonderful.  We had no co-payments at all and that included dental!  We simply showed our insurance card at the doctorís office or the dentistís and everything was taken care of.  I lived at Daytona Beach and drove back and forth each day, often late at night if I had the closing shift. We all rotated, too, so we might close one night and open the next morning so it was quite a jaunt.
One time I was on the Nature Trail (boardwalk) with two guests when lightning struck a nearby tree.  The sound was deafening!  I rushed the guests to the ticket booth and found out that someone had already called a rescue ambulance!  The man and his wife were fine but we all had ringing in our ears for several days after that."


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