Local and state officials were pleased to hear that the 400-acre Dogpatch USA theme park property in Newton County was purchased last month by an LLC led by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris.
Morris has not revealed plans for the property but said in a statement that the site would be restored and connect families with nature.
"We're ecstatic," Jasper Mayor Jan Larson told Arkansas Business last week. "Considering what he's done and his concern in the work he does for conservation and taking care, keeping things natural, I don't think we could have had a better buyer."
Larson said the city just finished a five-year strategic plan, with help from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.
"We identified the need for jobs. We want to be able to be a city where our young people can stay here, raise their families, be successful and live in our environment, in our environment that we love, our natural environment," Larson said. "And this will certainly be a great opportunity to make that happen for some, so it's wonderful."
Jasper, with a population of less than 500 people, is the Newton County seat. The county has fewer than 9,000 residents. County Judge Warren Campbell also welcomed the news.
"It'll be good for our county, I think," he said. "It'll help us; it sure will. I'm just glad somebody got it that will actually do something with it."
Stacy Hurst, secretary of the state Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism, acknowledged the buzz Morris created with his purchase. In addition to founding a thriving outdoor retail chain, Morris is a key developer of hotel and resort properties in the Ozarks, including Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. The property includes lodges, cottages and cabins, restaurants, meeting spaces, spas, swimming pools, trails and Tom Fazio-designed golf course.
Dogpatch, between Jasper and Harrison, is about a 35-minute drive from Big Cedar Lodge.
"He doesn't appear to do anything halfway," Hurst said. "So expectations are high. And, with this particular piece of property, it's a natural beauty and seems to be the perfect opportunity for him to create something great. So we're all looking forward to learning more and working with him on his plans as they become firm."
Hurst said Newton County has "abundant access to the beauty of the Ozarks" and outdoor recreation opportunities that include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking and country aviation.
"So there's clearly an opportunity to create something nice, focused on the outdoors, and to do it in a way that supports conservation and a love of our natural resources. ... I certainly think it will complement what's already there, and there's an opportunity to do something really nice and even grow it," she said.
Larson said the city had not been able to celebrate the sale as much as officials would like, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. She acknowledged that it will take time for the new owner to complete the project, whatever it may be.
"We're just looking forward to having that here. It's really a very hopeful situation because of the jobs," she said. "People are still talking about how busy it was when Dogpatch was here, and this will be, I think this could be even better. I think this will be the best thing that could have happened, so we're looking forward to the future."