Johnny Morris unveils plans for the former Dogpatch USA theme park
MARBLE FALLS, Ark. (KY3) - The Dogpatch USA theme park, which operated from 1968 to 1993, was once an important part of the area’s tourism industry, especially for the Harrison area.
“It was our local economy at one time,” said Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson. But over the years Dogpatch and the former Marble Falls resort (that sits on a hill overlooking the park) have fallen into a state of disrepair with the remaining buildings and equipment serving as a sad reminder of glory days long gone and ill-fated attempts to revitalize the land.
“We’ve gone through so many ups-and-downs of people wanting to buy the property and then backing out or making all these grandiose plans,” said Harrison Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bob Largent. “They’d move in for two or three months and work with paint and ladders and hammers and then just not show up the next day.”
“We’ve been living with it being nothing for so long that we never expected it to be something again,” Mayor Jackson added.
When they heard that Bass Pro Founder Johnny Morris had bought the property in 2020 they were encouraged, even though they didn’t know exactly what Morris had planned for the property.
“It was like we just landed on the moon,” Mayor Jackson said. “It was one of the greatest things we’d heard in many decades.”
Recently at a Buffalo River Conservation Committee meeting, more information was made available to the public about what was coming.
While Morris is working with his staff to formulate the finished plans, he does know that he wants to keep Dogpatch’s natural beauty and that the property won’t be a housing development like one previous owner considered.
It will instead be transformed into the Marble Falls Nature Park, which will be somewhat like Morris’ Dogwood Canyon Park just to the north in southern Missouri.
“The first time I was exposed to it (Dogpatch property) was three or four years ago when it was pretty dilapidated and run down as far as the buildings,” Morris recalled. “But what is there is beautiful nature and the limestone bluffs and two springs. They had a huge trout hatchery there, and that’s probably one of our first goals is to reactivate that hatchery and develop the creek that runs through there. We plan to build a restaurant and nature trails. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the main thing is to have something open for people to enjoy and learn more about nature and conservation.”
The Harrison Chamber of Commerce is certainly happy about its community reaping the benefits. As a town that depends heavily on 15 manufacturing companies, its economic engine is expecting some changes.
“If you look at what Dogwood Canyon has become we can see the Marble Falls Nature Park as that on steroids,” Largent said. “Our largest single industry is now going to become tourism.”
“We will become one of the main destination places in the whole central area of the United States,” added Mayor Jackson.
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