Peasant Dreams: ‘Medieval' Castle in the Ozarks Presents Grand Illusion

by George Waldon  on Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

Too few dollars detoured from the commercial corridor of U.S. 65 and traveled 13 miles east on rural Highway 14. Not enough admissions flowed into the project coffers at $12 for adults and $8 for youngsters down to age 6.

Volunteers willing to pay $20 to work at the Ozark Medieval Fortress and provide their own food and shelter apparently were about as rare as unicorns. Such volunteer labor was part of the financial formula of success at Project Gueledon in Treigny, France.

This castle-building attraction in the Burgundy region, two hours drive time southeast of Paris, was started in 1997 by Guyot and others. The business model of the smaller Ozark Medieval Fortress project was patterned after Gueledon.

The backers of the Arkansas development hoped to replicate a scaled version of Gueledon’s success and profitability. In 2006, the Burgundy castle reportedly hosted more than 245,000 visitors and brought in about $2.6 million.

The Boone County project is entering its second dormant season after launching May 1, 2010, with much fanfare, backed by a purported $1.5 million in startup capital from intercontinental investors.

The grand opening turnout was so disappointing there was talk among some of the investors about cutting their losses and calling it a day, according to Burleson.

The Ozark Medieval Fortress closed at the end of 2011 after only two revenue-producing seasons, and its gates have remained closed since.

(Also see how other castles in the area have survived.)

The project was trumpeted as a top 10 tourist attraction in Arkansas in 2011, but Joe David Rice said that Internet-related popularity contest claim needs amending.

“I would say it was top 10 in Boone County,” said Rice, tourism director at the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. “There weren’t very many cars in the parking lot the few times I was there.

“That thing was probably undercapitalized and poorly located. They probably could’ve gotten a better location closer to U.S. 65 for about the same money and gotten a lot more traffic.”

Rice admits to wondering if the project was genuine when he first was contacted about Frenchmen developing a 13th century castle in the Ozarks as a tourism destination.



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