When you think of an abandoned theme park, you might think of zombie or apocalypse movies. It truly does feel like something off of the silver screen – however, the United States has more abandoned theme parks than you might think.
With the announcement that the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans is finally slated to be redeveloped after two decades, many are looking back at the history of the park’s decay, having sat in salt water for a month following Hurricane Katrina and then left untouched for decades after. You can hear more of Six Flags New Orleans’ story in the previously linked article.
There’s something compelling about these neglected properties. Whether it’s memories of visiting them while they were open, imagining what could have been, or simply marveling at how something so grandiose could be left to rot. Let’s take a look at some of the other most famous abandoned theme parks in the United States and what their fates were.
Disney’s River Country
River Country is the stuff of Disney legends. This was Walt Disney World’s original water park, having opened in 1976, shortly after the Resort did. Themed after a rustic, old-fashioned swimming hole, the relatively small park on the shores of Bay Lake featured water slides, rapids, and splash zones. The Park gained somewhat of a notorious reputation in the 1980s when an 11-year-old boy died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba at the park. Officials noted that this was an inherent problem with Florida water at the time and could not be blamed on the Park’s water system.
River Country closed in 2001, following the openings of the much bigger and more popular Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. It was expected to reopen in the spring of that year, but Disney announced that it would be closed permanently in 2005. The Park sat completely abandoned and untouched for 17 years, rotting away and overgrown. It became a popular spot for urban explorers who would sneak backstage, only to discover that the lights and music were still on (as it was connected to the same power grid as the neighboring Fort Wilderness). In 2019, most of the structures were finally demolished to make room for Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, which was supposed to open in 2022 but has been delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
One of the oldest theme parks to be abandoned, this Aurora, Ohio Park was originally opened in 1888. With over 100 years of operation, generation after generation enjoyed its many amenities and attractions, including the Big Dipper roller coaster, which opened in 1925. The Park went through several ownerships over the years, including Six Flags and Cedar Fair, but none could save it from declining attendance and competition from more major parks. The Park closed unofficially in 2007, simply not reopening after the summer season.
Individual rides and attractions were auctioned off and sold to other Parks, although the iconic Big Dipper was never purchased and instead demolished in 2016. The rest of the Park sat largely abandoned for a decade, and it was purchased by PulteGroup and Industrial Commercial Properties in 2020 to build a housing development (with street names like “Carousel Court” and “Dipper Way” to pay tribute to the Park), as well as restaurant and retail locations.
Land of Oz
A Wizard of Oz-themed amusement park seems like a no-brainer. Located in North Carolina, this park operated from 1970 to 1980 and brought both the movie and book to life. The park contained replicas of locations from the movie, a hot air balloon ride, an Emerald City theater, and a small museum with props and costumes from the film, including an original Dorothy dress. However, in 1975, a fire was set in the Emerald City amphitheater that destroyed two buildings as well as the park’s offices, costumes, and sound equipment. The original Dorothy dress went missing.
New owners purchased the Park but failed to turn a profit, and it closed in 1980. It fell into disrepair and became a target for vandals, thieves, and urban explorers. However, after the Park opened for one day in 1991 to celebrate Beech Mountain’s Independence Day, efforts to re-establish the Park began. The Park now opens on Fridays in June for “Journey With Dorothy Tours” and in September for Autumn at Oz, which is the largest Wizard of Oz festival in the country. It is still a target for urban explorers who mistake the Park for being abandoned.