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Recently, the new owner of Dogpatch USA opened up the grounds to the public for one weekend only (stay tuned, as he plans to open it again in the spring). Charles L. Pelsor purchased the property this year for 2 million dollars. The property has seen its fair share of neglect the past 20 years; Mr. Pelsor has been quite busy cleaning up the property, restoring buildings and structures as much as possible, and working on a plan for the old theme park.
We took the opportunity that weekend to take a ride to Harrison, Arkansas, and walk through the grounds. Though I’d never been to the working theme park back in the day, I still remember my grandparents talking about it; and come to find out, my sister and her husband visited Dogpatch USA while on their honeymoon. Small world!
In all my years, I’d never really read the Li’l Abner comic strip, written by Al Capp and the basis for the old park. Just to give you a little background, Li’l Abner was a fictional, satirical comic strip, focused around a hillbilly family in the town of Dogpatch. Though the park portrayed a hillbilly theme, a theme or image that Arkansas did not desire, the park eventually opened in May of 1968 and provided a fun place for families and kids to spend time together.
Walking around the park that day, we explored old, abandoned buildings like the church, cabins, concession stands, game huts, and more. Inside the buildings are signs of life gone by, such as an old glass pitcher on a tray, seemingly waiting to serve its next customer.
I think the thing that struck me most was how many people were there, exploring right along with us. If you listened, you’d hear stories of memories gone by…stories from people who worked at the park when they were growing up. One visitor was telling about how she used to drive the train; she’d take that train across the trestle and come back to find out she was in trouble for going way too fast. I’d hear tidbits and stories from years gone by… People had a genuine affection for the park and the memories they created there.
I could imagine how beautiful the park must have been at one time. Though buildings are currently very run down, the landscape of the mountains, water, and trees make for a gorgeous backdrop. From everything I’ve learned about the park, it had a very rustic feel. Cabins still stand, one particular cabin even boasting a fireplace. The park offered trout fishing, a petting zoo, paddleboats, and more. Remains of a few of the rides still exist.
We found a sunken boat…a fenced circle that I can only imagine must have been a carousel or maybe a swinging ride at one time…Wild Water Rampage…train tracks…a trestle out over the water for what looked to be motorized rail cars…Skunk Works…the old funicular…I could go on and on.
My boys begged to cross the old railroad trestle, but there was just no way; it was zoned off, though that didn’t stop some visitors from venturing out on it, my husband included. The boys were very excited when they were finally able to venture down a bit closer to the waterfall.
We’re pretty excited to see how Mr. Pelsor transforms the old abandoned park to bring the location to life again.
Did you visit Dogpatch USA back in the day? What memories do you have of the park when it was in its prime?
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