Don't Miss

Walt Disney, The Sierra Club, And The Supreme Court. How Walt Started the Modern Environmental Movement

walt disney (left), mickey and minnie mouse (right)
Credit: Disney / Canva

Walt Disney absolutely loved skiing. On a trip to the Swiss Alps, he came up with the idea of constructing a mini-mountain in Disneyland and turning it into the Matterhorn Bobsleds. He was the director of pageantry for the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. And he had an idea for a ski resort that helped to usher in the modern environmental movement and changed environmental law in the United States.

American Alpine Wonderland

Walt Disney’s American Alpine Wonderland. Credit: USC Library

An Original Plan By Walt Disney

In 1965, Walt Disney started working on an idea for a ski resort in Northern California. At the time, Walt had a lot of balls in the air. He was working on his “Florida Project,” which would eventually become the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida. He was also fleshing out the idea for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT).

But this was a passion project for Walt. The National Forest Service called for private businesses to submit proposals for a ski resort in the Mineral King Valley. At the time, Sequoia National Park surrounded the Mineral King Valley on three sides, but it was not yet a part of the park. When the Sequoia was created, there were still mining claims in the Valley, and it could not be included as a part of the original National Park.

Walt’s proposal was for a five-story hotel with 1,030 rooms. It would include four miles of ski trails and an ice rink. For summer activities, he included a golf course and tennis courts. The plan for the hotel was to make it appear like you were transported to the Swiss Alps. Walt called it “American Alpine Wonderland.”

The total cost of Walt’s idea was $35 million, but The Walt Disney Company projected that the project would make $600 million in revenue in the first decade.

Concept Art for Mineral King

Credit: USC Libraries

The Sierra Club

When the Sierra Club heard of the project, it did something that it had never done: sued. The environmental group founded by John Muir sued the National Parks Service, claiming that the project would substantially harm the environment around the project.

In 1972, the Supreme Court threw the case out, saying that the Sierra Club did not have standing to sue, as they did not show that Disney’s ski resort would harm any one individual. The Sierra Club amended its lawsuit in 1976 to show that the ski resort would affect the club’s outings in the Valley and added the member’s names to the suit.

But despite the Sierra Club’s loss in the Supreme Court, the project had already been scrapped. Construction was halted while the case made its way through the court system. Walt Disney died in 1966, further damaging the project, while the Disney company moved on to Disney World.

Environmental law also changed. President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Protection Act, which required federal agencies to study the impact of construction projects on nature. Finally, in 1978, Congress made Mineral King Valley a part of Sequoia National Park, putting to bed the controversy.

Walt Disney

Founder of the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney / Credit: Disney

The Outcome of Walt Disney’s Failed Plan

Despite losing the case, the Sierra Club v. Morton showed environmental organizations that lawsuits could work to protect natural treasures. It brought environmentalists out of the forest and into the courtroom.

So, if it weren’t for Walt Disney trying to build a massive ski resort on a property adjacent to a National Park, who knows what environmental movement would be today? They have become more organized and litigious to protect our most valuable natural resources. And Walt Disney played a part in that.

About Rick

Rick is an avid Disney fan. He first went to Disney World in 1986 with his parents and has been hooked ever since. Rick is married to another Disney fan and is in the process of turning his two children into fans as well. When he is not creating new Disney adventures, he loves to watch the New York Yankees and hang out with his dog, Buster. In the fall, you will catch him cheering for his beloved NY Giants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.