by Bill Claydon
DogPatch USA was located between the cities of Harrison and Jasper in Arkansas, along Arkansas Route 7. It was, for most of its operation, a theme park based on the former L'il Abner comic strip. The park was opened in the late 1960s and closed in 1993 after changing hands many times. Initially designed to highlight the setting of L'il Abner (the fictional hamlet of Dogpatch, Kentucky), the park moved away from that focus in its final years. By then, L'il Abner had been out of print for over a decade, causing the park to lose much of its advertising.
In keeping with the L'il Abner franchise, DogPatch had a rustic theme. However, it was limited in its development to what could fit within the world of the L'il Abner comic strip. Other nearby amusement parks such as Silver Dollar City in Branson also had rustic themes, but they had more room for expansion and creativity without being tied to a particular franchise. Between youngsters' lack of familiarity with the comic L'il Abner and heavy competition from the expanding Silver Dollar City, DogPatch USA was not able to survive. The structures of the park are now dilapidated, have been vandalized, and nature is basically reclaiming the property due to lack of use.
Recently, the news media has talked about potential interest in the property, or at least a hope by Newton County in finding a developer. With the growing nature of Branson, the newly renovated section of US 65 between Springfield, Missouri and Harrison Arkansas, and expansion of Harrison, the property once known as Dogpatch USA does have some possibilities.
While I like rustic themes, my feeling is that Silver Dollar City in Branson has that market cornered. Silver Dollar City has established itself over the decades and being located so close to the power house of Branson, there is simply no room for another rustic themed amusement park within an hour of Branson. Rather, if DogPatch USA is to reinvent itself, it must be distinguished.
With the proximity of the Ozark Medieval Fortress, a revitalized DogPatch USA (under a different name) could have a medieval/renaissance theme. Renaissance Faires are popular summer attractions in other parts of the country. However, creating an environment with a mix of a medieval/renaissance style theme park with an ongoing Renaissance Faire could capitalize on the growing interest in the Ozartk Medieval Fortress. The Ozark Medieval Fortress is for serious and authentic study of the 13th century. There is no room for the Renaissance Faire style environment of fantasy on the premises. However, a theme park with that focus to the south could help to market both places.
Another possibility would be something that is less focused on an amusement park setting and instead focused on local and visiting musicians, local crafters, the beauty of the natural surroundings, and other events. Some of this was tried in the final years of DogPatch, but with the costs of maintaining a theme park it simply did not work. This would be an opportunity to drop the entire theme park idea and instead focus on something calming and peaceful. Instead of competing with Branson, it could augment the Branson experience. With easier transportation between Branson and Harrison, visitors to Branson could easily come down.
Finally, simply being nearby the beautiful Buffalo River and numerous hiking opportunities could allow this area to be a place for entertainment such as shows and music. This is how Branson started with some of their original shows, prior to the strip. Original entertainers from what are now the Baldkknobbers and Presley's COuntry Jubilee performed for visitors of the lakes surrounding Branson. This mushroomed into the famous 76 Country Boulevard strip and the rest is history. There is no reason why similar beginnings could not happen between Harrison and Jasper.