Saturday, April 19, 2014
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RUTH: The happiest garbage pit on Earth

Flowers and Fantasmic: Two words that describe my whirlwind vacation to Walt Disney World this past summer. Imagine a cheesy family posing in front of Cinderella’s Castle with matching hats, neon shirts and bags illuminating Main Street, USA as their flashy smiles and identical outfits lured the attention of fellow tourists. This is perfect snapshot of my family vacation to Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World has the most impressive flower arrangements and most strategic shrubbery placements I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you turn there are vibrant waves of blissful horticultural arrangements hugging every corner. I often found myself engulfed by meticulously trimmed Mickey Mouse masterpieces.  It was like being in a city full of shrubbery or a furnished palace of pansies. I started to have the illusion that I was, in fact, a hedge as well, but that delusion was short-lived.

In a place that seems so carefully planned out, Disney goes out of its way to overcompensate for the massive amounts of fireworks and habitat disturbance that goes on in order to ensure that everyone is satisfied during their stay at the “happiest place on Earth.”

Walt Disney World was always puzzling to me. As a child, my eyes always darted right to the characters that I desperately wanted to get autographs from. As an adult, I found myself noticing the diminutive details that go unnoticed. I’m not saying that all of the Disney magic has disappeared from my adult mindset, but I guess it just shifted towards discovering the magic that goes on behind the magic. There are so many mysteries behind Walt Disney’s land acquisitions as well as the maintenance of the parks, so how has a completely abandoned park adjacent to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground slipped under the radar?

Imagine a desiccated waterpark quenched of all its delight — broken and battered slides leading to nowhere, abandoned inner tubes and waterfalls of tears. One of Disney’s favorite family water parks has turned into a dumpster of memories.

If you don’t think that’s unsettling, see it for yourself. But if you do, you’d probably get arrested by the Walt Disney World police for trespassing. It would all be worth it to get a glimpse of the creepiest thing on Earth, right?

Meet River Country.

Opened in 1976, it was the perfect getaway for children to fully immerse themselves in Disney’s wilderness-themed waterpark. From its rustic music to its ingenious usage of the natural environment with a sophisticated filtration system, it attracted visitors from around the world.

Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon opened in 1995 and 1989 respectively, preceding the mysterious shut down of River Country in 2001. Although it was rumored that the shut down was related to a deadly bacteria, nothing was confirmed or publicly discussed.

People were so caught up in the creation of the two immaculate water parks, the seamless transition from mysterious shut down successfully commenced. People were hypnotized by the Disney allure and they never bothered to investigate what happened to that waterpark that they saw themselves in pictures as a child.

So what’s wrong with abandoning something if it doesn’t work out?

No one likes quitters. So, if Disney could afford to build two gigantic waterparks, then they could’ve afforded to properly dispose of River Country’s remains. There is no plausible excuse for this, just pure laziness and carelessness for the environment. Native animals are injured and disrupted by the presence of these slides with sharp edges and other potentially harmful remnants. Disney has made it very clear that their wilderness-themed, watering hole style waterpark was just a ploy to give visitors the impression they are in a park in which the corporation actually cares about the ecosystems that they disturb.

Who’s to say that Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios won’t end up like this?

If River Country was so haphazardly abandoned and left to rot in a formerly thriving wetland ecosystem, then there is nothing stopping Disney from abandoning Cinderella’s Castle and simply turning over a new leaf.

If something doesn’t work out and we just simply vacate it in all its glory, what do we have to show? The flattened and disturbed wetlands are left barren as more wetlands are sought after for infrastructure. What are future generations going to think of us when they stumble over our leftovers?

The happiest place on Earth possesses the potential energy to work symbiotically with the environment and do what’s right. Disney employees work hard to ensure the pristine nature of the parks and even take an extra step to fine all that litter.  “The Disneyworld Effect” is a term that describes how people are less likely to litter in an area that is clean.

So practice what you preach, Disney. Someone should fine you for littering.

Jennifer Ruth is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying environmental analysis and policy. She can be reached at

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