Man discovered camping out on abandoned Disney World island

Disney World has been closed since mid-March as the world faces the coronavirus pandemic. One man saw the closure as an opportunity to turn a Disney island into his personal campsite, but that didn't last long.

Richard McGuire, 42, from Mobile, Alabama was arrested on April 30 after camping on Walt Disney World's Discovery Island, according to an arrest report. He was banned from all Disney properties and charged with a misdemeanour for trespassing. 

Orange County officers conducted a search by foot, boat and helicopter and eventually found him. 

He had been sleeping in one of the island's buildings and referred to the property as a "tropical paradise," according to the arrest report. 

"Richard stated that he had made entry to the island to go camping on Monday or Tuesday and had planned on staying on the island for approximately one week," Robert Ricks, an Orange County police officer, wrote in the report. 

But what is Discovery Island? Those who have visited Orlando's Disney property may have come across an area with the same name, but the Discovery Island most recently open to guests isn't the same as the abandoned one.

Originally called "Treasure Island," the old Discovery Island in Disney World's Bay Lake closed to the public in 1999.

The 4.5-hectare zoo gave guests the opportunity to observe exotic wildlife in a natural setting. Many of those animal exhibits would later make their way to Animal Kingdom, which opened on Earth Day in 1998 as an expansion of Disney's wildlife projects.

"Anyone who's seriously concerned about preserving the wild places of the world is going to be very impressed," Joseph Rohde, the park's creative director, told The New York Times in 1995.


Soon after, the old Discovery Island became off-limits, though Disney explored new ways to use the island and at one point tried to work with video-game developers to turn the island into a series of puzzles to solve while exploring.

"Our guests have so many more choices. And they are choosing other things," Disney representative Diane Ledder told the Orlando Sentinel in 1999. "It's a little bit sad when we say goodbye to an old favourite, but change is part of the process."

The name was transferred to the central spot in Animal Kingdom, which previously had been dubbed "Safari Village." The current Discovery Island, surrounded by water and connected to the rest of the park by five bridges, houses several dining options, character meet-and-greets and Animal Kingdom's most iconic landmark, The Tree of Life.

Despite the island's closure, McGuire isn't the first person to make his way to it. Atlas Obscura reported that others have found their way onto the island and captured what remains on film.


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