Saturday, January 7, 2017

Snowed In: an Exclusive Excerpt of Volume 2

It snowed here last night. A lot.

It's not a big deal for me...I grew up in Michigan where we get feet of snow and still have to trudge to the corner to get on the school bus.

But I live in North Carolina now.

Don't get me wrong. I love North Carolinians. They are some of the most polite people I've experienced in the country. But the problem is that when there is even a threat of snow, it is as though the world is coming to an end. They even have a term for it here: the Snowpocalypse.

Case in point: as it started snowing last night, my wife and I took our boys out for dinner last night to a local Italian joint. On the way there, we passed the local grocery store and it was so busy that people had parked in restaurant and gas station parking lots nearby.

I guarantee you that the bread, beer, and milk shelves are empty today.

I've been in the house for 22 hours now, and the cabin fever hasn't kicked in yet. But since a Winter Weather Advisory has been issued because of the frigid temps coming (it is supposed to get down to 8 degrees tonight and 3 degrees tomorrow night), the snow isn't going anywhere anytime soon. As a teacher, this means I will probably get a four day weekend, which is kinda nice.

Soon, though, the beast of antsy-ness within me will start its kicking and I'll want to get out of here. The problem is, however, I've got no where to go: all local restaurants and stores will likely be closed because the southerners don't know how to drive in the snow. I haven't even seen any of my neighbors' children out playing in the snow. My kids played in the snow for two hours.

So with nothing to do and no where to go, I thought of my fellow man and thought I'd provide a free excerpt to volume 2 of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World.

In the spirit of being snowed in, I give you the historical backstory of the Mineral King Ski Resort!


“There Was…Blood on the Saddle:” The Mineral King

                  After the success of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney began looking to other projects to expand the scope of family entertainment. While on location filming the live action film, The Third Man on the Mountain in the late 1950s, Walt fell in love with the rugged terrain of the Alpine Mountains. In fact, his interest in the European Swiss Alps led to the creation of the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland. However, another direct result of Walt’s interest in snowcapped mountainous vistas led to
Walt Disney’s involvement in producing the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1960 Winter Olympics, held in Squaw Valley, located in northern California. Together, the production of The Third Man on the Mountain in the Swiss Alps and his involvement in the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics caused a deep interest in winter sports and the mountain ranges of California.
                  In 1964, Walt Disney sponsored four different pavilions for the New York World’s Fair, which was held in Queens, New York until 1965. Disney and WED Enterprises (an early form of Imagineering, which stood for Walter Elias Disney), created attractions for General Electric, Ford, the state of Illinois, and UNICEF, leading to classic Disney attractions, including Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and It’s a Small World. The success of Disney’s attractions at the New York World’s Fair led him to turn his attention to creating an East Coast version of Disneyland, and as a result, Walt and WED began to turn their attention to a remote area of central Florida. However, Walt did not plan on simply replicating Disneyland in the swampland of Florida, but rather wanted to create a “vacation kingdom,” ultimately purchasing forty-three square miles of land to facilitate the new resort. While the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s first theme park, opened on October 1, 1971, this was not Walt’s true intention for the Florida property: in 1966, Walt Disney presented a film to the Florida legislature to convince them to allow him to use the land to build what he called EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Immensely interested in city planning, Walt intended on creating a futuristic city, which would allow for people to vacation and live in the metropolitan center, facilitating interaction between different cultures, and revolutionizing urban infrastructure, including transportation and waste disposal. For example, EPCOT would function without automobiles; a multi-tiered highway would run beneath the city, allowing for traffic to pass by, while visitors and residents of EPCOT would utilize WEDWay PeopleMovers and monorails to get around from place to place. Unfortunately, after Walt’s death in 1966, his plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow fell apart, and in haste to develop the Florida property, Disney decided to build a larger version of Disneyland, known as the Magic Kingdom, and two resort hotels, the Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts. However, many of these revolutionary technologies and city planning techniques would be incorporated into Walt Disney World Resort’s property when it opened in 1971, including the underground utility corridors, known as the Utilidors, as well as the monorail transportation system around the Seven Seas Lagoon.
                  Walt Disney undertook another project in the mid-1960s, which also fell apart after his death. In early 1965, the National Forest Service issued a statement requesting proposals for the development of a ski resort in Sequoia National Forest, a region that was surrounded on three sides by Sequoia National Park, located in central California in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Sequoia National Forest was intentionally separated from the adjacent Sequoia National Park because of the future possibility of using the land for its mineral resources. In the 1870s silver was discovered in Mineral King, a portion of what would later become the Sequoia National Forest. Virtually overnight, hundreds of prospectors flocked to the valley to mine the precious metal. However, the mineral riches were quickly depleted and the area became a ghost town, home only to a few seasonal cabins, the occasional hikers, and various forms of wildlife. In an effort to encourage conservation of the area and to foster the return of native flora and fauna, Congress named Mineral King a National Game Refuge, withholding the status of National Park in case more silver were discovered in the area in future years.
                  In 1948, the Sierra Club, an organization aimed at environmental protection founded by famed conservationist John Muir, proposed the building of a ski resort in the Mineral King region of Sequoia National Forest. However, access to the proposed area would require the building of a road through the National Forest, which would require the displacement of trees and the destruction of the habitats of various forms of wildlife. This idea was revisited by the National Forest System in 1965, and after receiving six proposals for the development of a ski resort, awarded the contract to Walt Disney Productions.
                  Disney and his team immediately began to work on permits for the building of his newest endeavor, the Mineral King Ski Resort, which would be located on the valley floor of the Mineral King area. The resort land would use approximately forty percent of the Mineral King area, while the village would only utilize twenty percent of the Game Refuge. Granted three years to flesh out the plans to fulfill the permits granted by the National Forest Service, Disney developed blueprints and plans for their new property. With a lease on the land for thirty years from the National Forest service, the ski resort would feature two individual resort hotels, priced in the modern Disney tiered categories of moderate and deluxe resorts. A series of ten restaurants, including the Sky Crown, which would sit atop Eagle’s Crest Ridge at 11,090 feet above sea level, would feed the one million projected annual visitors. The resort would be home to numerous ski runs, but would also provide entertainment and activities to non-skiers, such as swimming, tobogganing, sledding, and ice skating during the winter, as well as hiking, horseback riding, fishing, cave exploration, and camping during the summer. The resort village of Mineral King would also feature specialized shops, a chapel, and a small movie theater to cater to visitors. Disney was able to acquire all necessary permits in 1968, and intended to open to visitors in 1973, with portions of the resort incomplete, intending to be fully operational by 1976.
                  Drawing upon his plans for EPCOT, Walt Disney incorporated many of his ideas on urban planning in order to preserve the natural beauty of the area, as well as to help conserve the natural environment. For example, automobiles would not be permitted to guests staying at the Mineral King Ski Resort. Upon arriving at the resort, visitors would park their vehicle in an underground parking garage, which would hold 3,600 cars. They would then board an old-fashioned steam-powered cog locomotive, also known as a rack railway, which would transport them from the foot of the valley, through the mountains, to the resort itself. Often used in areas where there is a steep grade, rack railways are similar to modern locomotives, but also utilize a center rail that has teeth; a cog located in the center of the railcar intermeshes with the center rail, reducing the chances of sliding backwards and giving the wheels something to lock onto, easing the climb uphill. Disney also developed technology for what was called WEDLifts, which were a series of fourteen ski lifts, which could be converted into a skyway during the summer months, allowing for aerial transport of skiers and non-skiers alike. In order to preserve the natural beauty of the area, these lifts would be camouflaged; the developers of the Disney resort also planned on utilizing sight lines of the mountain peaks in order to make the resort unseen from outside the resort property at the entrance of the valley. Because the resort was located a distance from any major metropolitan areas, Disney also planned on providing its own electricity to power the resort, as well as water storage tanks and sewage treatment facilities, some revolutionary ideas proposed by Walt for EPCOT.
                  While this was a welcome addition to Disney’s properties on the west coast for many (Walt Disney and his company were actually given two distinctive awards: the team of designers from WED received the Outstanding Service in Conservation of American Resources award, given for their efforts to build a tourism facility while maintaining the natural environment; and Walt was awarded the Hans Georg Award posthumously, which is given to the one person who has made the largest contribution to the sport of skiing each year), one group was staunchly against the addition of the tourist destination to Sequoia National Forest: the Sierra Club.
                  Founded in 1892 by conservationist John Muir, the Sierra Club was created to advocate for the protection of Earth’s natural resources and environments. The modern day Sierra Club focuses on advocating for renewable energy and looks for ways to reverse global warming. When Walt Disney Productions announced the creation of the Mineral King Ski Resort in 1965, the Sierra Club became the company’s most vocal opponent. Conservationists Jean and Richard Koch spent over a decade resisting the influence of Walt Disney Productions in building the ski resort, holding hike-ins in the Game Refuge, written petitions to state and federal legislators, and even marches in protest at Disneyland. The main argument of the Sierra Club centered around the building of a road through Sequoia National Park that would bring visitors to the underground parking garage at the foot of the valley. After being presented a plan by Walt Disney Productions, Interior Secretary of the United States, Stewart Udall, gave permission to the company to build the road through the national park on the stipulation that the road would “not result in the removal of a single redwood” tree. The Sierra Club objected the building of this road, which would upgrade the pre-existing roadway, a one-lane dirt path, into a multi-lane, high speed, all-weather access highway that would cut through the Sequoia National Park to bring guests to the parking location. The conservationist society argued that this would displace eight million cubic yards of rock and dirt, causing erosion in the draining of the roadway during rainstorms, and would displace the natural habitats of local wildlife. They also argued that the ease of access would lead to overcrowding of the area, and could ultimately lead to the destruction of the natural beauty of the Sequoia National Park and National Forest. Disney explained that the destruction of Sequoia National Forest and the Mineral King region was not their intention, but rather the conservation and benefit of it. For example, a nearby horseback riding company was polluting the nearby river with bacteria from horse droppings; evidence of this was present downstream in the Kaweah River, which Disney promised to remediate if given the chance to build the Mineral King Ski Resort. However, this was not convincing enough for the Sierra Club.
                  The techniques of the hike-in, letters to legislators, and the march to Disneyland were not sufficient to win the National Park Service to the agenda of the Sierra Club; with Udall’s approval of the building of the highway through Sequoia National Park, the organization decided to go to court. In 1969, the Sierra Club sued the leadership of the Sequoia National Forest and the Sequoia National Park, as well as the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior at the federal court level, asserting that “the project improperly handed control of too much national forest land to Disney” and that “the highway through the national park was illegal,” as the regulations of the National Park Service stated that roads could not be built unless they were limited in size and did not provide “access…from one destination to another.” In order to quell the complaints of the plaintiffs, the judge ordered an injunction, halting the building of the highway while the matter was investigated.  
                  The case went to the United States Supreme Court in Sierra Club v. Morton, 1972. The court ruled against the Sierra Club 4-3, explaining that the organization did not have a valid reason to sue, as the building of the road and the ski resort would not harm any individuals or individual property, but rather that arguing against their construction would simply “vindicate their own value preferences.” The justice who wrote the verdict on behalf of the Supreme Court, Potter Stewart, did note, “aesthetic and environmental wellbeing, like economic wellbeing, are important ingredients of the quality of life…[and are] deserving of legal protection.” This statement led the Sierra Club to believe that if they simply amend their argument and evidence, that they may be more successful.

                  On January 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which required all federal agencies to study the environmental effects of proposed actions, a direct result of an oil spill that occurred in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Ultimately completed in 1976, the National Forest Service completed their report on the Mineral King area, looking at effects on the region of water flow, the visitation of millions of people annually, snowfall, and other factors. More than a decade old, the idea for the Mineral King Ski Resort began to lose steam. No longer finding it worth the effort to fight the Sierra Club in the matter, Disney abandoned the idea of building a ski resort at Mineral King. The final nail in the coffin came in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed the National Parks and Recreation Act, which officially made the Mineral King area and Sequoia National Forest a part of Sequoia National Park.


Well, folks, there ya have it. Interested in how and why Walt and his Imagineers decided to develop the Country Bear Jamboree for the Mineral King Ski Resort? Then I guess you'll have to purchase A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 2 to learn more! Find it on Amazon as an ebook or in paperback!

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