Disneyland's main waterway has always been called the Rivers of America, but it wasn't clear what the name meant.
"We've never even named the rivers," said Kim Irvine, art director of Walt Disney Imagineering.
For the first time, the body of water around Tom Sawyer Island will have distinct sections designed to look like four U.S. river regions: the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Potomac and the Rio Grande.
And with the rivers, visitors for the first time will see new creatures, plant life and scenes when the Rivers of America re-opens Saturday.
Crews are finishing up a four-month rehabilitation project mostly done while the Rivers of America was drained; this week, the Rivers was being re-filled.
Disney last upgraded scenes on the shoreline in 1991 when crews installed the Fantasmic! Show, Irvine said. Disney showed the new features to employeesr in a behind-the-scenes tour recently
After the river was drained in January, Disney crews:
*Installed a new 2,500-foot track for the Mark Twain Riverboat and the Sailing Ship Columbia for the first time since the park opened in 1955.
*Built a corral for two live ponies. (It is the first time live animals are along the banks).
*Planted 4,000 new shrubs and 130 new trees that look like the river regions.
*Added 10 new figures and repainted about 16 old ones.
*Posted Mike Fink's Keel Boat in front of the cabin.
*Put in a new paddle wheel on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
*Replaced nine of the 11 docks.
The new features are visible from the riverboat, sailing ship and Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes and rafts to Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. All but the riverboat are set to re-open Saturday.
When the riverboat comes back as early as May 21, a guide will read a new speech that will explain at the beginning of the ride that guests will explore the four rivers on the journey.
New scenes include: deer drinking from a creek, Indian braves on Tom Sawyer Island, raccoons spied by a skunk, mountain lions hiding in the grass and an osprey on top of the winch beam close to the riverboat dock. Some old animals, including a group of moose, were repositioned in new scenes.
Disney attraction creators, called Imagineers, consulted original sketches from Walt Disney collaborators Marc Davis and Sam McKim for the river to come up with new ideas. Some scenes, including the raccoons, were from those old plans.
The previously burning cabin got a new theme: Mike Fink, Davy Crockett's rival and later friend, is the new resident. His keel boat, the Gullywhumper from the previous Disneyland ride, was placed in front of the cabin. Visitors will hear Crockett and Fink arguing from the boats.
"We had the Gullywhumper available, and we had the story," Irvine said. "We kind of like to go back to our history."
Along the 25,000 square feet of river's edge, crews added new trees and rockwork to define the regions. In the Columbia area, for example, horticulturists planted evergreens and ferns to make the region appear similar to tree scenes in "Twilight," Irvine said. Along the Rio Grande, red rocks on the shoreline blend in with the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad nearby.
The old version of Rivers of America was "just sort of a mish-mash," said Karen Hedges, Disneyland Resort's horticulture director.
The empty river gave horticulturists a rare opportunity to do landscaping along the river from the ground floor and during the day time, said Nicole Hill, a Disneyland Resort horticulture manager. Usually, gardeners must trim trees and spruce up the shoreline from river rafts, taking everything in and out from the boats overnight.
"I think everybody will notice the difference," said David Berrio, a Disneyland Resort horticulture manager.