Located in northwest Arkansas stands an unusual abandoned theme park themed around the popular hillybilly-esque comic L’il Abner. This little park was Dogpatch USA, the main attraction of the Marble Falls community.Back in 1966, Albert Raney, Sr. pitched his scenic family trout farm as the location of a new amusement park. Nestled in the beautiful Ozarks, the property included a natural spring (funneling around 4,000 gallons of water per minute), flowing waterfall, a total of seven reservoirs and two caves, each of which he planned to include in his project for the theme park.Al Capp, the creator of L’il Abner was approached with these plans, and although he had turned down a number of theme park offers prior to this, he accepted, taken by the natural beauty the Ozarks provided.Gradually, the trout farm was transformed into a living comic strip location and filled with performers acting out skits from L’il Abner. Additionally, theatrical performances and musical numbers, a functioning train station, authentic 19th century log cabins, a restored water mill, an apiary, stable, fishing, a restaurant and petting zoo were all offerings the park guests could explore as early as opening day. Then, at the center of it all, was a giant statue of Dogpatch’s town hero, Jubilation T. Cornpone.There were also plenty of retail opportunities where guests could watch local artisans hard at work woodcarving and glassblowing, as well as an abundance of handmade items available for purchase. Admission to Dogpatch was $1.50 per adult and $0.75 for children.

Kenzie Campbell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 By 1968, the park already had plans of expansion. A cable car would take guests to and from the parking lot to Dogpatch, a kid’s water ride, and a few animal exhibits that housed sea lions and exotic birds, a maze, go-cart track, shooting gallery, and more. These would see fruition for the 1972 and 1973 seasons.The expansion and additions continued, but the mid-70s proved to be turbulent for the park. Attendance was low, partially due to the ongoing energy crisis that kept many families home. Additionally, the public interest in the ‘hillbilly’ lifestyle was beginning to dwindle after a series of cancellations in country media.Jess Odom, owner of the property during this time, had accumulated $2 million in debt and was forced to borrow more in order to keep the park from going under. By 1979, Dogpatch had become unprofitable. Its operation costs were more than the revenue it generated, and 1977 saw the final nail in the coffin after Al Capp and the L’il Abner comic retired. At the peak of the comic strip’s popularity, it had been published in around 700 newspapers nationwide, making it the best and most effective advertising Dogpatch USA had. Once this advertisement was no longer available, attendance and popularity of the park dwindled rapidly.Dogpatch attempted to tough it out for the 1980 season, but an intense heatwave prevented the park from recouping funds for the year. With two back-to-back seasons of insufficient funds, Dogpatch filed for bankruptcy.

Photolitherland, via Wikimedia Commons

 However, the story of Dogpatch USA doesn’t end here. The park was purchased by Ozarks Entertainment, Inc. in 1981, bringing in a new age. This was a confusing era for the park, where parts of the land were sold to separate owners. It was difficult to determine at the time who owned what. This era of legal problems was brought to a close in 1987, where the park was bought out by The Entertainment and Leisure Corporation (Telcor), but the park’s problems were far from over.By this time, the L’il Abner comic strip had been out of print for 10 years, and Dogpatch was struggling to find an audience between its outdated source material and the competition from nearby Silver Dollar City. The park stumbled along its last handful of years, operating primarily as an arts and crafts fair and less of a theme park. In 1991, the distinct L’il Abner theming was removed.Without its one unique draw, the park continued to underperform and the doors finally closed for good in 1993.In 2014, the land was acquired by Charles “Bud” Pelsor who intended to turn the property into a functioning artisan village. His plans included the promotion of handmade arts and crafts, intentions to restore and use the rice mill. However, these plans would never come to fruition thanks to ongoing legal issues.The most recent owner of the property is Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops. As of 2021, his plan is to revitalize the area and restore the interest in the natural, wild beauty of the Ozarks.Though it’s too soon to tell what the ultimate fate of Dogpatch USA will be, its intriguing history and the love and nostalgia of those who visited will remain alive for decades to come.

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