Did you know the Country Bear Jamboree almost didn’t become part of the Disney theme parks? It’s true. Originally, the attraction was supposed to be part of a year-round resort located in the mountains of California. Walt apparently loved skiing and had a passion for the sport. He wanted to create a place that people could come and enjoy the natural beauty of the mountains all year long. To that end, Walt made a bid to develop a resort in the Mineral King region of the Sequoia National Forest. Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it seemed to be situated in the most ideal spot. The Country Bear Jamboree wasn’t slated to be part of a new theme park in the mountains but was to provide entertainment to folks while they ate dinner at one of the restaurants located in the new resort. Could you imagine eating dinner while watching the Country Bear Jamboree?
Walt, ever the conservationist, wanted to make sure that people who came to the resort would be able to truly enjoy the surroundings with the least amount of impact on the environment. In the Spring 1966 issue of Disney News, described it this way:
The company’s entire approach has been based on the absolute necessity to preserve the site’s natural beauty and alpine character.
To this end, automobiles will be excluded from the valley proper. Guests will park in a 2,500-vehicle parking area at the entrance and will be taken into the valley by a high-capacity public conveyance.
Further, the area’s natural character will be preserved by camouflaging ski lifts, situating the village so that it will not be seen from the valley entrance, and putting service areas in a 60,000 square foot underground facility beneath the village.
Given Walt’s reputation as a conservationist, it seemed that this resort would be able to mix both entertainment and nature in a way that would honor both families and the environment. On September 19, 1966, Walt announced plans publicly for the resort. Governor Brown (yes the same one) was on hand to offer his support. Everything seemed to be on track and even though Walt passed away a few short months later, his vision for the year-round resort kept the project alive. By 1969, plans for the resort were approved by the U.S. Forest Service and it was anticipated that by 1973 the place would be open. But alas, it was not to be. Walt’s forward-thinking vision of a resort that highlighted the natural beauty of the mountains would be caught up in legal battles for years to come. The Sierra Club which originally supported the development of a resort in the Mineral King area began to fiercely battle against the idea in the courts. They would successfully tie up plans to the point where Disney eventually scaled down its plans and eventually drop the project. It’s too bad because it sounds like it would have been an amazing place.
To read more about this amazing lost project, there are two great articles on the Walt Disney Family Museum blog you should read (that also provided the information for this post) – Mineral King: Walt’s Lost Last Project and New Heights: Walt Disney’s Mineral King.