On June 20, 1976, River Country—Walt Disney World’s first water park—opened for business. A quarter-century later, on November 2, 2001, it closed. In 2005, that closure was deemed permanent. But rather than pack up all of the meticulously designed features that had given families so many years of splashy fun, Disney opted to just leave it there.
In the 15 years since anyone took an inner tube ride down the White Water Rapids, the images of happy families have been overtaken by overgrown shrubbery and debris. In 2016, for the 40th anniversary of the park’s debut, photographer Seph Lawless—who has a knack for capturing the eerie beauty of forgotten places—paid a visit to River Country.
“Along with Discovery Island, it is one of only two Disney parks in Disney's history to ever close permanently,” says Lawless, who captured the images below. “Both of the parks were left to slowly decay and to succumb to Mother Nature, leaving behind a beautiful apocalyptic landscape.”
All images courtesy of Seph Lawless.