First posted on 01-05-2008
Click here for more photos from our visit to Dogpatch.
Before the days of Branson booms and Silver Dollar City, Dogpatch, USA was an Ozarks theme park, an attraction located just south of Harrison, Arkansas on Highway 7. Based on a popular comic strip by Al Capp, Dogpatch featured colorful characters like Daisy Mae and L’il Abner along with a rendition of what their surroundings were portrayed to look like.
Eventually, the park fell on financial hard times, never realizing the potential its investors sought. Dogpatch closed for good in 1993 and now lies pretty much in ruins, fodder for souvenir hunters, vandals and the encroaching Arkansas woods.
Originally a trout farm owned by Albert Raney, Sr. and his family, the land that became Dogpatch was opened to the public in 1968. O.J. Snow, one of the original investors in the theme park, noted that some of the land’s features fit the Li’l Abner comic strip well: Mill Creek Canyon was at the base of a waterfall and, with a drop of 55 feet, was deep enough to be “Bottomless Canyon.” Mystic Caverns, a cave and tourist attraction also owned by the Raney’s, would be renamed to serve as “Dogpatch Cave.”
Despite fears over the park’s hillbilly theme, Phase I was off and running at a cost of $1.3 million. It included the construction of all the buildings and rides. Phase II was to include an RV park, amphitheater, motels and a golf course, but much of that was not fully realized before the park closed.
Dogpatch, USA officially opened on May 17, 1968 with 8,000 visitors the first day. General admission was a mere $1.50 for adults and $.75 for children. The park reported a net profit of $100,000 for its first year of operation and, with television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres set in rural cultures, investors imagined Dogpatch as a huge success going forward.
Projected attendance was 400,000 for 1968 and 1.2 million by 1977. But the park actually saw only 300,000 people in 1968 and never reported more than 200,000 in any season after the first.
Still, Dogpatch was profitable during its first few years of operation. But big dreams, the poor economic conditions of the early-1970’s, a mild winter and a pair of personal injury lawsuits all contributed to dire financial conditions by the mid-seventies. In November, 1980, Dogpatch, USA filed for bankruptcy.
In 1981, Dogpatch was sold to Ozarks Entertainment, Inc. and the new owners took the park into a different direction, adding new rides and attractions as well as hosting several concerts with big-name country stars. The addition of corporate sponsors also helped and the park returned to profitability for the next five years.
But by the late 1980’s, Dogpatch was having difficulty competing with Silver Dollar City in Branson and even the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. By this time, the Li’l Abner comic strip had been out of circulation for nearly a decade and, as attendance plummeted, cost cuts were put in place as a last ditch effort to stave off closure. The park tried to place a greater emphasis on arts and crafts and less on rides. General admission charges were dropped and, instead, visitors were to pay for individual attractions. Even the Li’l Abner theme was finally abandoned and the park became known as Dogpatch, Arkansas in its final years of operation.
The park closed for good on October 14, 1993 after a 25 year run. Since that time, much of the park has been in decay, the property (or pieces of the property) has changed hands
and the park has been frequented by the curious despite “no trespassing” signs.
At one time, the park was even auctioned on eBay with a minimum bid of $1 million. There were, however, no bidders.
In 2005, the trout pond was drained, cleaned and re-filled, fueling speculation that the land had been sold once more and that a new project was beginning to take root. A few buildings were also repaired around this time, but no further action took place and the park, again, lies in dormancy.
Over the years, several attempts have been made to revitalize parts of the property with other concepts – a motorcycle “hub,” a Christian-themed center and others – that met with mixed results.
Here’s a rundown on the fate of some of the park’s attractions:
Dogpatch Caverns - A long time area attraction, it was named “Mystic Caverns” when owned by the Raney family. When it was being renovated for Dogpatch, another cave was found but was not developed while a part of the theme park. In 1981, both caves were sold. Dogpatch Caverns became “Mystic Caverns” once more and the new cave was named “Crystal Dome”.
The caves are the only original Dogpatch, USA attractions still in operation today.
Frustratin’ Flyer - a steel roller coaster was sold between the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
Earthquake McGoon’s Brain Rattler – this was a toboggan style coaster that brochures depicted with its track wrapped around a tree. It was in operation when the park opened in 1968, but was shut down during the 1970’s. It did not reopen until 1981. The ride is no longer on the Dogpatch property and its whereabouts is unknown.
Funicular Tram - the tram was used to transport visitors from the parking lot into the park below. The tram went into service during the 1971 season and remained in service until 1991 when the park dropped general admission charges.
The Funicular Tram is the only ride still in the park today, although it sits idle and in ruins.
Lil’ Abner’s Space Rocket – this ride was added in the late seventies and was the first to completely depart from the park’s original theme. The ride was removed after the park closed and its whereabouts is unknown.
Trash Eaters – the park featured trash cans that used a vacuum system to suck trash right out of patrons’ hands. The cans were fitted with heads shaped like goats, pigs and razorback hogs. Some of the trash eaters have been removed or stolen from the property, but a few still remain.
The Trout Pond - a small trout farm was part of the original Raney property and the theme park of Dogpatch was built around the pond. The pond had actually been a tourist attraction of its own for about thirty years before Dogpatch was built. The Raney family continued to operate the pond throughout the Dogpatch years. It was kept overstocked with fish so visitors were almost assured of hooking a large trout which was then cooked and served to the angler by the restaurant staff.
The Trout Pond sat untended for many years along with the rest of the property once Dogpatch ceased operations. Trespassers fished out all the remaining trout and the pond stagnated. A couple of years ago, it was drained, cleaned and refilled.
Readers can still see what remains of Dogpatch, USA right on State Highway 7 about halfway between Harrison and Jasper.
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