The Indians Lose Their Land

by David Koenig, contributing writer
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Although Disneyland's Rivers of America has been down for nearly four weeks now and some tarps have been installed on the periphery, the only big sign of the major construction-to-come is the abundance of closed attractions. Otherwise, the river seems eerily tranquil.

Yet backstage and on the back side of the river, the demolition has begun. They've started to pull up train tracks. The Friendly Indian Village is now gone, and its former inhabitants packed away presumably to be relocated to the smaller back shore after the river is shortened. By the end of this week, all other show pieces that are out of guests' line of sight should also be gone.


Concept art for the reconstructed Rivers of America shows a new train trestle along with a Native American village. Photo ©Disney.

On Tom Sawyer Island, Tom & Huck's Treehouse—closed for years due to American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and lawsuit concerns—will be demolished. As one glimmer of hope, tentative plans are also to eventually tear down Fort Wilderness 2.0 and rebuild it the way it was; guests can once again enter and it will feature a canteen where visitors can buy snacks. Big Thunder Ranch will be leveled, although Imagineering has tagged the cabin (formerly known as Esmeralda's Cottage) to be dismantled and saved so it can be "retasked."

Last week, the stables at the Circle D Corral were torn down and the "Pope House" was on its way to its new home in the Team Disneyland Anaheim visitors' parking lot. In fact, an entire block of backstage support facilities—Enviromental Affairs, the Security Kennels, the Service Garage, Fantasmic float staging and maintenance, and several maintenance shops—is also being removed and relocated.

Cast members I talk to continue to have misgivings about all the disruption the addition of Star Wars Land is causing. "Is it worth it?" they ask. In the Roundhouse, those familiar with the locomotives have expressed concern about the Railroad's new route, which includes a 3-percent grade increase as the trains make their way along a trestle over the back of the River. Will the trains be able to take the climb with a full load?

And hourlies aren't alone. As one shared, "I overheard two Imagineers talking backstage about the project. They didn't sound too confident, and I got the impression that Walt Disney Imagineering bit off more than they can chew. Think about it: Cars Land was built on pretty much an empty parking lot backstage. Not much [was required] as far as prepping for building a new land." As the back quarter of island and the river get sized up for elimination, the same cannot be said for Disneyland's coming resettling of the West.

Comments

  1. By Free Agent

    Good story.
    Word is only about 100' of river and Island space will be lost to the expansion.
    If the remodel looks anything like the artist renderings, it'll be excellent and a perfect improvement to Disneylands Rivers of America.

  2. By Liar

    Any news on whether the Big Thunder Ranch's historic pile of horseshoes -- all that remains of the old opening-day mule ride -- will be relocated?

  3. By Jimbo996

    No one knows until they do it. I mainly don't get what's really the risk. Surely, the train climbing a 3% grade creates stress on the locomotive, but trains were never designed to only travel on flat terrain. Maybe they should consider upgrading the trains. I'm sure the Imagineers are concerned, but who wouldn't be for such a big project.

  4. By olegc

    Looks are one thing - operational ability and every-day use are another. And "upgrading trains" is exactly the kind of thing the bean counters DON'T want to hear - where one action leads to necessary spending on another. It seems to me a lot of promises and/or promotion was made without a complete analysis. Could be - and Can be - a quite different.

    At least you'll be able to see the banks of the river for a while as you wait in a queue before you're allowed to enter SW Land since it will be so crowded that the Fire Dept will force access stoppages of the land in order to maintain safety levels. (my opinion based on popularity and demand, and Burbanks desire to get as many people into the park paying 100 a day as possible).

  5. By jmorgan

    It seems as if Disney has fast tracked this project from the beginning without a lot of thought. I see this land going the way of "Rocket Rods".

  6. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by jmorgan View Post
    It seems as if Disney has fast tracked this project from the beginning without a lot of thought. I see this land going the way of "Rocket Rods".

    well it can't be like Rocket Rods where they would close the land. I agree it might fall into the same category of poor design planning but its so big that's hard to judge. I am in agreement that it seems to have been fast-tracked from a market pressure position and it seems Iger is going to make sure it gets built ASAP come hell or high water due to HP being launched at Universal and capturing the buzz around the films. there may be so much traffic and public push as a "must see" that even cardboard cutouts will be welcomed as an initial thrust.

  7. By Jimbo996

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    Looks are one thing - operational ability and every-day use are another. And "upgrading trains" is exactly the kind of thing the bean counters DON'T want to hear - where one action leads to necessary spending on another. It seems to me a lot of promises and/or promotion was made without a complete analysis. Could be - and Can be - a quite different.

    I don't know about this. You make it seem like they made a mistake that will cost them a properly functioning park. That's won't happen. They decided to completely redo the Rivers of America and everything will come back as it was. They have an idea of what it takes, but obviously after opening up the "hornet's nest", they will see what happens next. That's why most projects come with contingency budgets to fix things after the fact.

  8. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    I don't know about this. You make it seem like they made a mistake that will cost them a properly functioning park. That's won't happen. They decided to completely redo the Rivers of America and everything will come back as it was. They have an idea of what it takes, but obviously after opening up the "hornet's nest", they will see what happens next. That's why most projects come with contingency budgets to fix things after the fact.

    but it all won't come back "as it was" - it can't with changing tracks, turns, etc. Again - artists renderings and list of available attractions are comparable - but true operation is not until the thing is in place. There are all levels of opinions on whether this project will be 100% the best, the worst, or in the middle. I gave my opinion - and indeed we shall see what happens.

  9. By David Koenig

    Liar: The giant stack of horseshoes is so badly deteriorated, it almost certainly will be trashed. One cast member who checked on them right before the petting farm was closed described them as "one giant pile of crumbling rust."

  10. By xezat

    Still can't help but feel a Star Wars themed land would've either been better fused into Tomorrowland or made out in DCA somewhere. Tomorrowland, as much as I've always liked the retro future concepts, is just too far removed from that these days, and it's already a hodgepodge of other movie attractions, some of which don't even do much with retro future or sci-fi like the rebranded Nemo subs; heck does anyone even remember Buzz's ride is based off a cartoon long since cancelled and not the movies? The original Carousel of Progress/former Innoventions is largely just an exhibit of stuff now for whatever property is new and attractive, and though I was lucky enough to have ridden Rocket Rods (which I thought was fun), it's all unused and they didn't even bother returning it back to the Peoplemover. So there's more than enough stuff they can tear down or outright remove for Star Wars stuff to go along with Star Tours. As sacrilegious as it might be removing Tomorrowland, at least it would have given it a definite theme over a random collection of stuff from various brands that deal in the future somewhat. Sure Big Thunder Mountain ranch area needed work since I can't ever remember it being a must see area of the park, but the fact it impacts other classic rides like the ships, railroad, etc is what annoys me.

    Or of course, just build it out in DCA, if they made room for a Cars land, they can make some for Star Wars as well. Given that a California-based themepark in California always seemed like a half-baked concept anyways, a Star Wars land could easily boost attendance there more instead of overcrowding Disneyland further.

  11. By olegc

    All the lands in Disneyland are random attractions based on a general theme for each land. That was the design element all along until Carsland. So its not really "just random"

  12. By MadasaHatter

    Great article.....always fun to hear what is going on.....3% doesn't sound like much but one would be surprised...I hope they get it sorted. It sounds like if all goes well....it will be super cool with the new fort and I can see why the tree house would need to come down....sad but true. Remember that very dangerous teeter totter rock??? Yeeeesh!

  13. By EmmasMom

    Quote Originally Posted by MadasaHatter View Post
    Remember that very dangerous teeter totter rock??? Yeeeesh!

    Yes and the equally dangerous merry-go-round rock!
    Those "dangerous" rocks, tree house and fort are some of my favorite Disneyland memories.

  14. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by MadasaHatter View Post
    Great article.....always fun to hear what is going on.....3% doesn't sound like much but one would be surprised...I hope they get it sorted. It sounds like if all goes well....it will be super cool with the new fort and I can see why the tree house would need to come down....sad but true. Remember that very dangerous teeter totter rock??? Yeeeesh!

    3% is probably significant, see the 1% discussion under "Railways" on Wikipedia. It mentions that a locomotive can pull around 1/2 or less of what it can pull at 0% when on a 1% grade. It also mentions that the addition of curves within the grade is a significant factor.

    While the DL trains probably are not operating at anything that would be considered their maximum capabilities, the load on the engine seemingly will change considerably. I'm not a steam engine engineer or mechanic, but I would suspect that could at the very least require more frequent maintenance and perhaps quicker wear out of some parts.

  15. By davidgra

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1313 View Post
    3% is probably significant, see the 1% discussion under "Railways" on Wikipedia. It mentions that a locomotive can pull around 1/2 or less of what it can pull at 0% when on a 1% grade. It also mentions that the addition of curves within the grade is a significant factor.

    I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I believe the trains at WDW must climb a 3% grade at some point between the Storybook Circus (former Toontown) station and the Main Street USA station. Except when it's raining, they manage to make that climb without any difficulty many times every day, and even when it is raining, there's only a little slippage of the wheels, not a total failure of the train to move.

    To be perfectly honest, the only actual problem I can foresee with a Star Wars Land at Disneyland is extreme overcrowding. I think the most likely scenario is that Star Wars Land could draw in so many "new" visitors each day that the modest increase in capacity in the park due to new acreage and attractions will simply not be enough, leaving the rest of Disneyland more crowded than it is now. That certainly happened at Universal Studios Orlando when Harry Potter Land opened.

  16. By indyjones

    Remember that Disney is much better at crowd control than Universal. I've a friend at Universal who said they have been doing a LOT of crowd control teaching and drills recently. Universal had to implement a ticketing system to limit the number of folks in Wizarding World when it first opened, this WILL happen again at Hollywood and i'm sure will happen when Star Wars opens.
    As for "biting off more than they can chew", one reason this is a 3 year long project is to allow for things that they find while ripping down and reconfiguring so much of the backstage and river area. It's certainly possible they find a chemical leakage into the soil or any of a number of other issues that could cause delay. We will just have to wait and see but of course all of that happens at the start of the project, which is a good thing in my opinion. They will find out early on what big hurdles with regards to the land reconfiguration are going to appear.
    Something I have not seen mentioned is that some of the trains face inwards, towards the park. All those beautiful, cascading waterfalls over the trestle bridge are going to be hard to see facing that direction. Also I'm wondering if we will see the return of the rainbow caverns waterfalls in the tunnel that the train will have to take under the entrance to the new area. I hope so.

  17. By olegc

    It took 3 years to build Carsland without anything existing. So how does that timeline fit here?

  18. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by indyjones View Post
    ............ Also I'm wondering if we will see the return of the rainbow caverns waterfalls in the tunnel that the train will have to take under the entrance to the new area. I hope so.

    (emphasis added by me)

    That's an interesting thought. I sort of figured the train would be going over a walkway to get to SW Land, just like at the entrance to the park and also at the entrance to Toontown. I figured it might be "tunneled" to hide it, but I figured it would still be above the walkway. Instinctively I would have thought it isn't enough length from the NOS station to the Toontown station to go down and back up.

    Time will tell!

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