Bass Pro Makes a Big Splash – Did the Fishing Giant Really Buy Dogpatch?

Introduction

Dogpatch USA was a popular theme park located in northwest Arkansas that operated from 1968 to 1993. It was based on the famous Lil’ Abner comic strip and featured characters and attractions from the cartoon series. At its peak in the 1970s, Dogpatch USA attracted over 300,000 annual visitors.

Bass Pro Shops is a privately held retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor gear. Founded in 1972, it has grown to over 200 retail locations across North America. The company is known for its immersive store experiences that incorporate wildlife displays, aquariums, shooting ranges, and large collections of outdoor merchandise.

History of Dogpatch

Dogpatch USA was founded in 1968 in northwest Arkansas as a theme park based on the popular Lil’ Abner comic strip by Al Capp (THV11). The park featured characters and locations from the fictional rural town of Dogpatch, including Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae. Dogpatch USA quickly became a hugely popular attraction, drawing over 300,000 visitors annually in its peak years in the 1970s.

However, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, attendance at Dogpatch USA began to steadily decline. Several issues contributed to this downturn, including the decreasing popularity of the Lil’ Abner comic strip after Al Capp retired in 1977. In addition, the park faced new competition from large theme parks opening in other areas of the country. Facing mounting losses, Dogpatch USA finally closed its doors in 1993 after 25 years of operation.

Bass Pro Shops Business

bass pro shops has grown into a major retailer of outdoor sporting goods over the past 50 years.

Bass Pro Shops was founded in 1971 by avid fisherman Johnny Morris in Springfield, Missouri. The company started as a small bait and tackle shop selling fishing gear. It has since grown into a leading retailer of outdoor gear and apparel with over 200 locations across North America. Bass Pro Shops has over 10,000 employees and attracts over 120 million visitors annually.

Bass Pro Shops stores range from small outdoor World stores to expansive megastores with restaurants, bowling alleys, aquariums, and shooting ranges. Their flagship store in Springfield, Missouri is over 400,000 square feet. Bass Pro Shops aims to provide a fun, interactive shopping experience catered to outdoor enthusiasts.

Through acquisitions and partnerships, Bass Pro Shops has significantly expanded its retail footprint and offerings. In 1978, they acquired outdoor gear retailer Gander Mountain. More recently in 2017, Bass Pro Shops acquired boating and marine retailer Cabela’s in a $5.5 billion deal. The combined company now has over 420 retail locations across North America. Bass Pro Shops also operates Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill restaurants inside their stores.

Rumors of Sale

In early 2020, rumors began circulating that Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris was interested in purchasing the long-abandoned Dogpatch USA property. Located in northern Arkansas, Dogpatch USA was a popular theme park in the 1970s and 1980s before closing in 1993. The 400-acre property had sat vacant for over 25 years.

According to local reports, Morris had been eyeing the property for potential development for years. With Dogpatch USA in bankruptcy proceedings, speculation mounted that a sale to Morris and Bass Pro Shops was imminent (Arkansas Online, 2021).

The potential sale generated a lot of buzz and reactions within the local community. Some hoped that Morris would revitalize the property and boost tourism, while others were skeptical of his plans. There was also nostalgia for the beloved theme park from long-time residents who visited Dogpatch USA as children. However, many agreed that having such a large, vacant property right off the interstate was not good for the area.

Negotiations and Due Diligence

In early 2020, Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris entered into negotiations to purchase the long-abandoned Dogpatch USA theme park site in northwest Arkansas, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Source). The 400-acre property was purchased by Morris for $1.2 million after extensive due diligence and feasibility studies.

johnny morris likely saw potential in the abandoned dogpatch usa site for outdoor recreation and conservation.

Very few details of the negotiations or purchase process have been made public. However, Johnny Morris was likely attracted to the property due to its natural beauty, trails, streams and wilderness access. Morris has a track record of conservation efforts and wanted to restore the land after years of neglect at Dogpatch USA (Source).

After acquiring the property, Bass Pro Shops commissioned extensive engineering and feasibility studies to determine the best use of the land. This included evaluating potential development costs, infrastructure needs, zoning requirements, and opportunities for outdoor recreation and conservation. Based on these studies, plans were made to convert the area into a private nature attraction with limited commercial development.

The Deal

In August 2020, it was confirmed that Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris had purchased the former Dogpatch USA property in Newton County, Arkansas for $1.12 million after a foreclosure auction. This ended years of the property sitting vacant after Dogpatch USA, a pioneering theme park based on the Li’l Abner comic strip, closed in 1993.

According to reports, Morris was the sole bidder on the 462-acre property. The purchase included all assets associated with Dogpatch USA, ending speculation about who might buy and redevelop the site.

Morris, an avid conservationist, indicated plans to preserve the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains location and potentially create “a new nature-based tourist destination” there. His acceptance of the sale price showed a dedication to acquiring the property for the right long-term vision rather than short-term financial motivations.

Plans for the Property

the former dogpatch usa property will be transformed into an expansive nature park by bass pro shops.

When Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris bought the 400-acre former Dogpatch USA property in early 2020 for $1.2 million, he had big plans for transforming the long-abandoned theme park into an expansive nature park. As reported by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette in September 2021, Morris shared details on his vision to turn Dogpatch into Marble Falls Nature Park, which will emphasize conservation, education, recreation and inspiration.

Construction on the new nature park began in late 2021. The first phase involved cleaning up and restoring the land, as well as adding new roads and infrastructure. Bass Pro expects the initial parts of Marble Falls Nature Park to open in 2023. Plans call for miles of trails, a large event pavilion, educational facilities, and water recreation on Marble Falls Lake. While not an amusement park, Marble Falls will offer family-friendly outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, hiking and camping. The long-term vision is to complete the park in multiple phases over the next 5-10 years.

Local Reaction

The sale of the former Dogpatch USA site to Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris has sparked both excitement and concerns among local residents in Newton County, Arkansas.

Many are optimistic that the sale could bring new jobs and tourism to the struggling local economy. Newton County Judge Warren Campbell said the project “has the potential to be a huge economic boost for Newton County.” He added that “the plans look amazing” and could make the area an outdoor recreation destination (Harrison leaders react to Dogpatch purchase by Bass Pro’s Johnny Morris).

However, some residents have expressed worries about the private nature preserve being closed off to the public and losing access to beloved local lands. There are also concerns about potential environmental impacts to the Buffalo River watershed. Though details remain scarce, many hope local officials will ensure responsible development and accessibility (Bass Pro slowly carves out a private nature preserve on former Dogpatch USA grounds).

While specific plans are still taking shape, most agree the project marks an exciting new chapter for the long-vacant former theme park site. The community is cautiously optimistic about the potential economic benefits while wanting to preserve the natural beauty and public access to this iconic Ozark land.

Project Status

The redevelopment of the former Dogpatch USA property into Marble Falls Nature Park is currently underway. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris purchased the 400-acre property in early 2020 and broke ground later that year.

marble falls nature park is currently under development on the site of the former dogpatch usa amusement park.

As of November 2022, the project was still in the early stages of development. Areas of focus so far have included improving infrastructure, clearing overgrown areas, and constructing new roads and trails (source). One completed section is the 45-acre Mill Pond, which features boating, fishing, and hiking opportunities.

The target opening date for the full nature park experience at Marble Falls is sometime in 2023 or 2024. The redevelopment plans aim to pay homage to the original Dogpatch USA theme park while creating an immersive outdoor adventure destination for visitors of all ages (source).

Conclusion

In summary, Bass Pro Shops acquired the Dogpatch USA amusement park property in northwest Arkansas in late 2021. The iconic theme park had been closed since 1993 but the land remained undeveloped. Bass Pro, a major retailer of outdoor sporting goods, plans to potentially build a distribution center, retail stores, a wildlife attraction, and conservation areas on the site.

While the sale has been confirmed, many details remain unknown. The final sale price was not disclosed, and specifics around the future development are still up in the air. It remains to be seen exactly what will be built, the timeline for construction, and the impact on the local community. Still, the purchase represents major potential growth for Bass Pro in its home region. This will be an important story to continue following in the coming months and years.

Some key questions remain unanswered:
– What was the final price and terms of the sale?
– What will the timeline be for renovations and new construction?
– How many jobs will be created?
– What conservation efforts will Bass Pro take on?
– How will the new facilities integrate with the character of the surrounding area?

As plans become more concrete, we will continue providing in-depth coverage and analysis. This deal has major implications for the economy, tourism, and culture of northwest Arkansas.

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