Dogpatch Theme Park USA is Abandoned Will be Auctioned Off.

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Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Dogpatch USA, an abandoned amusement park, is located in Marble Falls in Arkansas’ northwest corner. The property used to house a trout farm, but its owner decided to sell it. The family hired OJ Snow, a real estate developer, to sell the property in 1966.

OJ Snow was interested in the land. This location was ideal for his pioneer-themed amusement park that he had long considered. He liked Marble Falls because it reminded him of Dogpatch, the town featured in the Li’l Abner comics.

Mystic Caverns was also a show cave that belonged to the same family as the trout farm. It reminded me of Dogpatch Cave in the comics.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

OJ Snow and partners founded Recreation Enterprises Inc (REI), to purchase and develop the land.

Snow wrote Al Capp, the comic book creator, asking permission to build a park that was inspired by his work. He took video of the land and discussed with Capp how he would transform the area into the world he had imagined.

Snow stated that there would not be any “thrill rides”, such as roller coasters, in his pitch. Instead, he said that the park would feature more tranquil attractions like horseback riding and paddle boats, arts, crafts, and botanical gardens.

Al Capp had previously refused permission to his characters to be used in a park, but Snow was able convince him that Arkansas would be a good place for his creations.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

In January 1967, Capp’s lawyers reached an agreement that gave REI the rights to the comic book characters. REI made Capp a partner.

Capp and the investors were excited about the project. However, officials and residents of Arkansas were worried that it might reinforce negative stereotypes about hillbilly people and cause property prices to drop. Others pointed out the failures of other parks that tried to duplicate Disney World’s success.

The Publicity and Parks Commission and the Harrison Chamber of Commerce inspected the land before construction could begin and approved the plan to create an 825-acre park.

The groundbreaking ceremony at which Al Capp and his spouse attended on October 3, 1967 marked the beginning of construction. The building process was broken down into two phases. The first phase, which included both rides and buildings, cost $1.3million.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

The second phase saw the construction of a railway to transport visitors from Dogpatch and Marble Falls. A tram was also built to transport people from parking lot to entrance. Plans were also made to build a motel or a golf course. Both would have cost $2 million.

Log cabins from the Ozark Mountains were removed and rebuilt at the park. A 1834 watermill, which was previously on the property, was also restored to its original working condition.

Dogpatch received approximately 8,000 people at its official opening in May 1968. The local community and the Post Office changed their names from Marble Falls in 1968 to Dogpatch that same year.

Neben den genannten attractions, there was also a petting pool and a trout pool. Visitors could fish in the trout pools and then have their fish prepared at Dogpatch.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Snow mentioned candlemaking, glassblowing and woodcarving as some of the arts and crafts he had used. The first year’s profit was approximately $100,000.

In 1968, plans to expand the park were already in place.

These plans were based on a park’s projected attendance at 400,000, which would rise to approximately one million in the following ten years. In reality, the 1968 Olympics attracted only 300,000.

The groundbreaking ceremony at which Al Capp and his spouse attended on October 3, 1967 marked the beginning of construction. The building process was broken down into two phases. The first phase, which included both rides and buildings, cost $1.3million.

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 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

The second phase saw the construction of a railway to transport visitors from Dogpatch and Marble Falls. A tram was also built to transport people from parking lot to entrance. Plans were also made to build a motel or a golf course. Both would have cost $2 million.

Log cabins from the Ozark Mountains were removed and rebuilt at the park. A 1834 watermill, which was previously on the property, was also restored to its original working condition.

Dogpatch received approximately 8,000 people at its official opening in May 1968. The local community and the Post Office changed their names from Marble Falls in 1968 to Dogpatch that same year.

Neben den genannten attractions, there was also a petting pool and a trout pool. Visitors could fish in the trout pools and then have their fish prepared at Dogpatch.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Snow mentioned candlemaking, glassblowing and woodcarving as some of the arts and crafts he had used. The first year’s profit was approximately $100,000.

In 1968, plans to expand the park were already in place.

These plans were based on a park’s projected attendance at 400,000, which would rise to approximately one million in the following ten years. In reality, the 1968 Olympics attracted only 300,000.

Jim Schermerhorn was a REI member who is an experienced caver and was hired to renovate Mystic Caverns, and make them Dogpatch Caverns. He was responsible for addressing safety and hazards, as well as supervising the installation and maintenance of walkways and lighting.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

While working on Mystic Caverns, a second cave was discovered. It was totally undiscovered, so it was decided that it should be preserved rather than being made available to the public. The project’s second phase included plans to renovate the cave, which was given the name Old Man Moses Cave.

The profits from the first year were divided among the shareholders. Snow wanted to reinvest the money, but other shareholders demanded a cut. In 1971, several shareholders sold shares to Jess Odom, a businessman. Odom bought a controlling stake in the company for $750,000.

Odom was able to convince Capp to sign a contract that allowed Dogpatch USA to use all the characters, names and other elements of the comic until 1998.

Li’l Abner, and other “hillbilly culture” shows, were very popular starting in 1968. After the comic strip was published in 700 American newspapers, Capp signed a deal to open a series themed restaurants. Capp’s success was expected to benefit the Dogpatch USA theme parks.

Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Odom continued to expand the park with this goal in mind. By 1970, Odom had built a 60-unit mobile homes motel, a campsite, and a funicular that would transport guests from the parking lot into the park.

For the 1972 season, several new attractions were added, including an exhibit of sea lions and exotic birds as well as a water ride for children.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Odom was the sole owner of the stock, having purchased the majority. Dogpatch’s success encouraged him to build a nearby ski resort and conference centre. When it was first built, it was called the Marble Falls Resort & Convention Center. It opened just after Christmas 1972.

Dogpatch USA expanded with new rides in 1972 and 1973. The decade was marred by national financial difficulties, high interest rates, and an oil crisis which prevented people from traveling far.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

The Li’l Abner TV series was cancelled and no airings were made. Also, the plan to open a Li’l Abner themed restaurant was scrapped. Due to the mild winter, Marble Falls ski resort was also unable to compete.

Odom had to borrow $1.5 million more because Dogpatch wasn’t generating enough income to support these attractions. This was in spite of high interest rates.

In 1976, Union Planters Bank started a $3.5million debt collection process. The First National Bank of Little Rock also called in $600,000.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Al Capp’s retirement in 1977 was the most severe blow. He stopped publishing his comic strip nationally in newspapers. Dogpatch, the primary source of advertising for the park, was not visible without the comic strip.

Odom claimed in September that Marble Falls had experienced losses up to $100,000 annually since its inception, and that he was unable continue to operate it.

Odom tried several times to revive the park’s business during the 1970s, but by 1979 he had started negotiations to sell it to God Patch, a private non-profit organization that proposed to transform the park with a biblical theme. These negotiations lasted for a while, but no money was ever traded.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

1980 was the worst summer in state history. The park lost money again because tourists chose to stay at home.

Union Planters Bank purchased Marble Falls and Dogpatch USA in October that year. Dogpatch declared bankruptcy a month later and the land was sold to repay a $7million loan.

Ozarks Entertainment Inc (OEI), purchased Dogpatch USA and kept it for five more years. The park’s staff was reduced by half but funds were used to build new attractions and rides. The amphitheater hosted performances by artists like Reba McEntire and Tina Turner.

Denver Pyle, who is best known for his role as The Dukes of Hazzard’s lead actor, was chosen to be the park’s spokesperson. Corporate sponsorship was obtained from Tyson Foods, Dr. Pepper and Coca Cola. Dogpatch USA was cheaper than Disney World’s $84 per family ticket and charged $34 for a dogpatch USA family ticket.

Bruce Raney, the grandson of the original owner, purchased the caves in 1981. The name was changed to Mystic Caverns and Old Man Moses cave was renamed Crystal Dome.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

In 1987, 90% of OEI shares were purchased by Telcor (The Entertainment and Leisure Corporation). Telcor managed the theme parks. In the 1990s, Dogpatch faced off against Silver Dollar City (and the Ozark Folk Center). Dogpatch was also hindered by the fact Li’l Abner, which had been out of print for ten year, meant that most children had never seen the comic strip.

Locals were also less interested in the park. In 1997, residents petitioned the Post Office to change its name to Marble Falls.

The park was not expected to open in the year 2000. Instead, it opened as an arts-and-craft park where visitors pay per activity and not a general admission fee. Telcor decided to reduce costs and scrap the Li’l Abner theme because it had already paid for its use.

After many failed owners, Dogpatch USA closed its doors on October 14, 1993. It was not supervised or controlled and quickly became an abandoned property.

In 2002, a 141-acre portion of the property was put up for sale on eBay for $1 million. The entire property was listed for sale on eBay in 2002 for $1 million.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Here is where ownership history takes an unusual twist. Pruett Nance (16 years old) rode his ATV around the park with permission from the owners in 2005. He was fortunate to not be killed when he ran into wire between two trees on one of his trips. He suffered serious and potentially fatal injuries to his neck, trachea, and neck.

Nance was able to get through the case and he and the father took the matter to court. They claimed that the wire was put up by the owners with malicious intent. Nance won the case all the way to Arkansas Supreme Court. Nance received the Dogpatch deeds instead of the $764,582 damages from the owners.

Nance was 23 years old at the time, and had no idea what to do with a property like that. He decided to sell it.

In 2014, Bud Pelsor (the inventor and owner of the non-spill dog bowl), and a business partner purchased the park for $2 million. They wanted to make the park an ecovillage and built a museum and restaurant.

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

The park opened at the end of the year and over 5,000 people visited the grounds to prepare for the grand opening later in the year. The new attraction would be called the Village at Dogpatch.

The site was reopened for music, arts and crafts festivals in May 2015, despite a fire that destroyed three buildings in February 2015.

The site was again auctioned in March 2016, as Pelsor’s partner wanted it to be sold and Pelsor couldn’t afford to buy him out. The property was not sold but leased to Heritage USA, run by David Hare. Heritage even leased part of the former Marble Falls resort to Deborah Nielsen.

Hare seemed enthusiastic about the project and posted videos on YouTube explaining his plans. On the other hand, he was a talker but no one actually did anything. After Heritage failed to pay its loan payments, Nielsen issued an order for eviction. Hare and Heritage USA vanished without a trace.

Pelsor was able to regain ownership but stress and the cost of the project proved too much. Dogpatch USA will be up for auction again in March 2020 with a starting bid at $1 million.

If you’re looking to explore this area, the Dogpatch campsite remains open. Nielsen runs the Marble Falls Resort & Restaurant. The Mystic Cavern also remains open.

Read another Article about: Gary Indiana : 1990s City that has Become a Ghost Town

 Dogpatch Theme Park USA
Dogpatch USA abandoned theme park near Harrison Arkansas.

Walter Arnold, thank you for sharing these amazing photographs of an abandoned theme park with such a fascinating history. Visit his website to view more of his work and his incredible project Art of Abandonment.

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