For part 2 of this look at some of the parks The Walt Disney Company planned but never built, we have something a little different.
The planned resort was no theme park!!!
Now part of The Sequoia National Park, Mineral King sits 250 miles North of Disneyland in California. But back then it wasn’t part of the National Park.
A 7.5 mile long glacial valley in Southern Sierra Nevada, it was home to two Native American Tribes, The Wikchúmni Yokut and Tübatulabal. The Yokuts main settlements were around and actually in what has become Lake Kaweah.
In 1870s large amounts of precious metals were found and this made for the creation of the boomtown of Beulah. It was in 1872 that silver was found in the region and the first Mineral King Road was laid. A second discovery of silver was found in 1878, causing more prospectors (Stinky Pete anyone??!!) to descend on the area and a second road was built.
When the new National park was set up in 1890, Mineral King was left out of the park, but strangely became the busiest entrance to the park.
The Mineral King Road actually passes through many different tree groves including two giant sequoia groves, the Redwood Creek grove and The Atwell grove.
Some time in the late 1910’s it was common knowledge that any metals that were being extracted was worthless, after the Empire mine was sold off.
By the 1920’s Mineral King was now part of the National Park and had become a popular recreational center and the communities were beginning to expand.
What does this have to do with Disney I hear you say
Well in 1965 it had become public information that Walt Disney had been buying up acres and acres of land in Orlando, Florida, with plans to build “Disneyland East”, but he also had plans for something very different.
Yes he had his sights on Mineral King. Walt had become a firm fan of skiing from his time visiting Northern European countries for research and pleasure and believed that his company could provide the best experience for skiers in not just California but all of the USA.
In 1948, the Sierra Club, an environmental organisation who protect natural areas in both regional and national proportions, had backed the addition of a ski resort. That had ran into the issue of a lack of access to the area.
That plan was killed off, but by 1958 the county of Tulare applied for an all weather road which was granted.
In 1965 finally progress was made and the area was actually granted a highway and it was at this point Mr Disney jumped.
With a plan for a ski resort at the end of said highway, Walt saw this as the perfect opportunity to redefine ski resorts the way they had with theme parks.
He liked the fact that it was right in the middle of two California’s most iconic locations, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the area could provide activities all year round for all abilities and ages.
Set in the 7,900 foot valley surrounded by 12,400 feet mountains, it would have been serviced by 14 ski lifts, some of which would have operated in the summer months, for sightseers, hikers and wild life experts.
A self contained village area would have consisted of a chapel, restaurants, conference center, ice rink, shops and low budget accommodations.
As well as the village, in the valley and in the surrounding peaks would have housed two large hotels and 10 more restaurants.
And to preserve the valley, the area was restricted to motor vehicles, providing a 2500 space parking lot above the main resort where visitors would then board public transport to finish the last part of their journey.
In similar fashion to what ended up becoming the Utilidors at The Magic Kingdom, all services areas would be underneath the front of show areas.
A nice bit of knowledge regarding these areas was that originally the now famous Country Bear Jamboree was actually planned to be inside one of the many restaurants and would have acted as the entertainment.
During 1966, the Governor of California was given a federal grant of $3 million towards the building of the highway and was then to apply for a federal loan of $9 million towards the $25 million cost.
With the plans for the Governor’s massive support and the plans for the ski resort everything looked like it full steam ahead.
Sadly in December 1966, Mr Disney passed away, leaving his plans for the resort with WED Enterprises.
Designs were refined during this period, WED giving the resort a more modern feel.
By 1969 The US Forest Service had approved Disney’s plans and it was announced that the resort would opening during the winter of 1972.
It was during that period that opposition to the highway and the resort began to crop up.The Sierra Club this time became the opposition and took to the courts to stop the plans.
It was also a worry that the highway would make it’s way through the Sequoia National Park, with many protesting that another of Walt’s defining engineering discoveries, the monorail would be a better option than the road.
By May 1972, Disney’s plans had been revised once more, shrinking the budget from $35 million to a rather more paltry $15 million, reducing the amount of ski lifts from 14 to 10. The biggest change to the plans though was the inclusion of a railway system that would negate the need for the highway. It would be built with a bond from Tulare County, Disney would then operate it as a non profit part of the resort.
This reduction of costs probably had nothing to do with the opposition to the resort but more to with rocketing cost in Orlando. Magic Kingdom and the surrounding resort was originally budgeted at $80 million but had eventually cost the company a humongous $400 million.
Sadly as the end of 1972, the project was coming to a halt, despite the fact that he believed California required more recreational areas, the Governor Ronald Regan, could no longer back the highway.
In 1973, the project was dead, a environmental assessment was required which wouldn’t be complete until 1976 and there was legal issues surrounding the railway. All work was stopped and Disney walked away from Mineral King.
Come the end of the assessment in 1977 The US Forest Service tried to revive the project with Disney but they had actually moved on to a private Ski resort near Lake Tahoe and in 1978, 16200 acres of Mineral King were annexed to The Sequoia National Park and downhill skiing was banned!!!