Dogpatch USA: History of Arkansas’ Iconic Park and What’s Next

Dogpatch USA has been closed for nearly three decades, but memories of the iconic attraction between the towns of Jasper and Harrison are still vivid.

Along Highway 7 between Jasper and Harrison is an iconic attraction, a place cherished by so many: Dogpatch USA.

The park has been closed for almost three decades, but the memories are still vivid. John Burton, a Branson-based travel blogger, remembers the scenery.

“It’s different than driving through a giant parking lot, getting off the freeway somewhere, and seeing all the big rides in the distance,” Burton said. “It was different and even as a young child, I remember it and think to myself, wow, that’s really cool.

The history of Dogpatch USA has more twists and turns than the roller coasters that once stood there.

The park based on the popular “Lil’ Abner” cartoon opened in 1968 and had 300,000 annual visitors at one point. It hosted thrill rides, a water slide, a trout pond, a railway, a flour mill and a town center – which finally closed 25 years later.

Michael Schwarz, president of the Abandoned Atlas Foundation, has researched and written about the park extensively.

“When Dogpatch first opened in 1968 and then closed in 1993, it wasn’t just owned by one company,” Schwarz said.

“It has changed owners several times, and each time an owner has contributed to the failure of the park. There were many reasons why this park did not succeed. It had a lot to do with the themes and principles that each owner would bring.

The Abandoned Atlas Foundation shines a light on abandoned places and their potential for new life. Dogpatch USA is one of those places.

“For years, Dogpatch sat completely abandoned,” Schwarz said. “There was an old waterslide, all the downtown buildings, the train tracks, the station, were still there. And it was just all grown up, there was just nothing.”

In the years since its closure, several investors have tried unsuccessfully to revitalize the park. In 2020, it sold out again.

Billionaire environmentalist and Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris bought the 400-acre Dogpatch USA property for $1.12 million.

“Well, first I said it was a lie. I didn’t think he was actually going to acquire it,” said Matt Bell, executive director of Explore Harrison.

Explore Harrison is the marketing organization for the Town of Harrison. Bell is among local leaders who share their excitement for the future of the property located about five miles south of town.

“Over the past two decades, it’s been—for lack of better words—a roller coaster ride. You never knew what was to come with Dogpatch USA,” Bell said. “Now we know that Johnny Morris and his team are going to make it a relevant place for future visitors.”

The gates to the park are locked, but the view from above shows a transformation in progress. Details remain scarce.

After contacting Bass Pro communications and requesting an interview, the company replied with the following email: “Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone available for an interview or update to provide at this time, but we we’ll be happy to keep you posted when we have more to share.

At a Buffalo River Conservation Committee meeting in September, Morris representatives shared the space that will become Marble Falls Nature Park.

“The most important thing is that Mr. Morris, his goal is again, nature conservation, respect for the environment, creating opportunities for people to get out and engage with nature. “said Spencer Jones, engineer on the project.

Morris is the mastermind behind several other Ozark nature projects, including Big Cedar Lodge, Top of the Rock, and Dogwood Canyon – the model for Marble Falls Park. It includes a restaurant, trout fishing, cattle grazing and wildlife.

In October, Burton visited the project site to see the progress for himself. He took pictures along Highway 7 to post on his Facebook page and Youtube channel.

“You see this old tram just sitting there and a waterwheel that’s not moving and train tracks, and I’m like, wow. And then you might just question yourself,” he said.

Although Burton was among those who originally hoped to see a theme park return, he is looking to the future.

“We all have these memories that were unique and special,” he said. “So, is this new project going to create those kinds of memories for the next generation? I think for Johnny Morris that’s an important goal that he has to achieve.”

A timeline for the project has not been released, so community leaders and tourists are eagerly awaiting. Bell hopes the natural beauty of the park will serve as an attraction.

“The fact that [Morris is] going to capitalize on that and preserve that property and allow tourists to come in and see what the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains is, that’s awesome,” he said.

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