Excerpts from "Buffalo National River Theme Identification Context Studies And Property Evaluations" Thomason and Associates Preservation Planners Nashville, Tennessee and Hawkins Partners Landscape Architects Nashville, Tennessee, September, 2004.
Recreation and tourism in the Ozarks developed out of the growing interest in outdoor recreation and rural areas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Urban businessmen began to travel to the Ozark region for hunting and fishing expeditions and introduced many to its recreational potential. Improved roads increased accessibility to the region as automobile use became more common.
While the issue of whether or not the Buffalo River would become a national park brewed during the 1960s, a group of Harrison businessmen were embarking on their own tourist project in the Buffalo area. Taking a chance on the rising interest in folk culture and the popular stereotypical image of Ozark natives, a group of investors developed a large theme park that played on the “hillbilly” image of mountain folk. Called Dogpatch, U.S.A., the park was based on the popular comic strip of Al Capp and featured a number of frame and log dwellings, stores, and gristmills that served as a caricature of a mountain village. The park was developed on 852 acres around the site of the original community of Wilcockson along Highway 7 between Harrison and Jasper.
There was concern that the park was presenting a distorted view of the Ozark region and its people and would hurt the state’s image in general. However, this was overlooked in anticipation of the park having a tremendous positive economic impact on the region. It was estimated that over one million people would visit the park annually, which would in turn deposit five million dollars into the local economy.
The park opened on May 18, 1968 and was a “blatant exploitation” of the Ozark culture. The park also offered demonstrations of regional woodworking, music, and crafts. That summer, the park attracted 300,000 visitors.
In October 1968, a businessman from Little Rock, Jess P. Odom, purchased the company that owned and managed Dogpatch, U.S.A, and revamped the park by adding various amusement rides and hiring former Arkansas governor Orval Faubus to run the park.
Much to the dismay of local residents, Odom built a new post office on park grounds and officially changed the surrounding community’s name from Marble Falls to Dogpatch. Odom also made an effort to establish an extensive winter sports resort and a hunting resort in the region, neither of which came to fruition.
The theme park continued to operate for over two decades, but never became the major success that its owners and creators imagined. The park closed in the early 1990s, and in 1997, the local post office was renamed Marble Falls.
Recreation and tourism remain viable industries in the Buffalo River region. Cabin and canoe rentals remain a popular business along the river’s edge and the Buffalo National Park continues to draw a number of visitors each year.