Bass Pro Shops Founder Johnny Morris Behind $1M Dogpatch Property Buy

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Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris confirmed Tuesday that he leads the LLC that purchased the 400-acre Dogpatch USA theme park property in Newton County last month.

The Springfield News-Leader, citing a press statement from Morris, said Morris has no set plans for the property yet. But the statement said any possible development would be “an extension of Morris’ signature experiences that help families connect to nature and each other.”

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to restore, preserve and share this crown jewel of Arkansas and the Ozarks so everyone can further enjoy the wonderful region we call home,” Morris said in the statement, obtained by Arkansas Business. “We’re going to take our time to restore the site, dream big and imagine the possibilities to help more families get back to nature through this historic and cherished place.”

Morris, who founded the iconic American hunting and fishing retail chain in 1972, is a key developer of hotel and resort properties in the Ozarks, including Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. The property includes lodges, cottages and cabins, restaurants, meeting spaces, spas, swimming pools, trails and Tom Fazio-designed golf course.

Dogpatch, between Jasper and Harrison in Arkansas, is about a 35-minute drive from Big Cedar Lodge, Morris’ statement points out.

The defunct park was purchased at auction last month for $1.12 million by Down By the Falls LLC. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the LLC was incorporated in Delaware on May 28 but has a Springfield, Missouri, residential street address. Bass Pro Shops is headquartered in Springfield.

Dogpatch U.S.A. was incorporated in 1967. Built for $1.3 million and mostly completed when it opened on May 17, 1968, the park was a hit with families, and incorporated characters from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner hillbilly comic strip. The park featured rollercoasters, water rides, comedy acts and music shows.

But keeping the momentum going with new attractions to keep the crowds coming back was daunting, and investors and owners had trouble keeping up. Owners through the years included Melvyn Bell, the chairman of Little Rock’s Environmental Systems Co., who also owned Magic Springs in Hot Springs. The park closed permenantly in 1993.

Most recently, Charles “Bud” Pelsor and a partner, James Robertson of Newbury Park, California, aimed to transform Dogpatch into an ecotourism village, including a trout farm and a grist mill that would make non-GMO-cornmeal. They bought the property for $2 million in 2014, but their plans never materialized.

The property was scheduled to go up for bid in a foreclosure sale in March, but that plan was scrapped when a buyer emerged.