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Less than amusing

Less than amusing

A quarter-century ago, Arkansas lost an amusement park, and what an amusement park. Those of us of a certain age have memories of walking the park with the grandparents, seeing characters in costume, taking it all in. It was Arkansas‘ own scaled-down Disney World. Now the aging buildings, slides and waterways sit covered in vegetation.

Dogpatch USA is between Jasper and Harrison, and as one drives the winding two-lane highway, a body can see old bridges, wooden buildings with metal rooftops, remains of a large water slide, and algae-filled waterways that were once home to trout.

Many Arkansans have longed to see the property restored to its former glory. From 1968 to 1993, Dogpatch averaged thousands of visitors every day. Workers were decked out in Li’l Abner comic strip costumes, fiddlers and bass players filled the park with folk music, local artisans peddled their crafts–and children found relief from the humid Arkansas summers playing in the water. It’s a vivid recollection, to be sure.

But these days Dogpatch is as poor as the Yokums. After bankruptcy and changing hands several times, the park shut its doors in 1993. In 2005, a man riding an ATV on the private property struck a steel cable. Judges awarded him and two others ownership of the property in 2011 after they filed a lawsuit.

It looked like fortune was about to smile on the park in 2014 when a new owner purchased 400 acres of land that used to house the park. He announced grand plans to restore the land into an eco-friendly destination with restaurants, vineyards, the return of artists, new fishing ponds and more. Boy!

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

That owner later put the place up for sale. A company called Heritage USA leased the property with more grand plans for Dogpatch‘s future. But by that point, nobody was holding his breath. Good thing, too. The papers say Heritage USA has abandoned the property, more than $29,000 behind in lease payments. Another one bites the dust.

The land’s co-owner describes it as a jungle, and that can happen when you let property go in this climate. (For some reason, back in 2017 The Weather Channel put together a list of 10 creepy abandoned amusement parks, putting Dogpatch toward the end of the list. We’re not sure if that’s a compliment to our forlorn theme park.)

For now, Arkies have no choice but to just watch a crumbling park–one caught in some sort of frozen, strange, unfortunate time loop. And be happy with the memories from long ago.

Editorial on 08/25/2018