Abandoned Dogpatch to become nature center

Photo: Courtesy of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A state commission was told Tuesday the abandoned Dogpatch USA theme park in Newton County will become Marble Falls Nature Park, a project led by the founder of Bass Pro Shops.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Bass Pro Shops senior director of conservation Bob Ziehmer presented the plan at the quarterly meeting of the Buffalo River Conservation Committee in the Jasper School Cafeteria.

Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO John L. “Johnny” Morris bought the 400-acre piece of property in Newton County last year.

The committee was told the proposed Marble Falls Nature Park will resemble the much larger Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe, Mo. Dogwood Canyon features a working mill and restaurant, trout fishing and fly-fishing lessons, wildlife tours, horseback riding and education programs on conservation.

The park will focus on the community’s history, which includes being the site where a block of marble was quarried, carved and transported to the nation’s capital in 1836 and was one of the first stones to be incorporated into the Washington Monument, according to the presentation. The area also has been a health resort featuring the waters from a local spring.

The 400-acre Dogpatch site sold for $1.12 million. For years, north Arkansas residents tried to get Morris to buy Dogpatch, but the price was $3 million in 2016. The former park’s price eroded — along with the site.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Dogpatch USA was constructed in 1967 for $1.33 million (about $10 million in today’s dollars and originally featured a trout farm, buggy and horseback rides, entertainment by characters from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip and the park’s trademark railroad. Amusement rides were added later.

According to Forbes.com, Morris has a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion and a record of successful conservation projects. He developed Big Cedar Lodge, billed as “America’s premiere wilderness resort,” and the 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, both of which are in southern Missouri.

Dogpatch was set for sale on the Newton County Courthouse steps in a foreclosure auction March 3, 2020 before Morris’ company bought it.

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