A 65-year-old welder who invented a spill-proof dog bowl said he would give up his dream to turn Dogpatch USA into an "eco-tourism park," but only if there is no other option.
Charles "Bud" Pelsor put the 400-acre Dogpatch theme park site up for sale this week. The property, located between Harrison and Jasper in rural Newton County, is listed for $3 million.
Pelsor said his business partner, James Robertson of Newbury Park, Calif., is in bad health and wants to sell his half of the park.
So while the entire park is for sale, Pelsor said he would be happy to sell only half of it.
"I don't want to sell out, but my business associate does," he said. "I have the option to buy him out, but I can't."
Pelsor said a new partner in the project would be buying shares, not specific acres within the park.
Pelsor plans to spend $6 million to $8 million to convert the property into an ecotourism destination to be called The Village at Dogpatch.
He plans to recommission a trout farm and mill on the property and clean up Mill Creek so he can re-establish Arkansas' pearl-bearing Margaritifera mussels. There will be displays of painters, sculptors and woodcarvers in addition to a farrier and carriage rides. Pelsor also wants a couple of restaurants in the park.
Besides buying Dogpatch, Pelsor bought the former ski lodge at Marble Falls and moved manufacturing of Great American Spillproof Products Inc. from Louisville, Ky., to Harrison. On paper, the company is the owner of Dogpatch.
According to the website for Pelsor's company, greatamericanspillproof.com, its product is called the Buddy Bowl. "Dogs love it because water does not go up their nose. You love it because you have less mess," according to the website.
"We can't make them as fast as we can sell them," Pelsor said.
Dogpatch USA was a theme park from 1968 to 1993 based on Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip, which was published in more than 700 newspapers across the country.
More than 300,000 people visited Dogpatch in 1968, but attendance remained below 200,000 a year in subsequent years.
Constructed for $1.33 million ($9.5 million in today's dollars), the park originally featured a trout farm, buggy and horseback rides, an apiary, Ozark arts and crafts, gift shops and entertainment by Dogpatch characters, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Amusement rides were added later.
After the park closed, nature and vandals took over. The park was overgrown with trees and brush, and many of the 25 buildings were falling down. It was a lost bit of Americana, sought out by the occasional trespassing tourist for nostalgia and its kitschy appeal.
In December 2014, Pelsor opened the park to the public for a weekend. About 5,000 people showed up over the two days. For many of them, it was an emotional experience, a reminder of childhood, family and simpler times.
Middle-aged men climbed like kids onto the porch of Mammy and Pappy Yokum's cabin. They were the fictional parents of Li'l Abner.
Inside the cabin, Mary Ann Davis and her husband, Jasper, said they were glad they drove up from Pine Bluff to see the property.
When asked about memories, Mary Ann Davis started to talk, then abruptly stopped.
"I'll start crying now," she said, gathering her composure. "It's bringing back lots of memories. Remembering back when your kids were young and you had so much fun being with them."
It's that kind of emotion that motivates Pelsor. He is from Indiana, but he has family roots in the Pope County town of Pelsor. He also has vivid memories of visiting Dogpatch when he was a child around 1970. Pelsor said the area was thriving economically, and he wants to restore it to that prosperity.
There have been some setbacks since Pelsor and Robertson bought the property.
"We've had two major floods," Pelsor said. "We had a fire that took out three buildings. We haven't started construction yet because we're still in the throes of redeveloping the existing buildings."
Pelsor said it could take a year to sell the park. In the meantime, he'll continue with plans to develop the property to become the Village at Dogpatch.
"We don't know what's going to change other than investors," Pelsor said. "I'm going to continue like nothing is going on. I'm going to continue with everything that's in the plan. There are people interested in buying smaller portions, so I could break it off that way."
But if someone wants to buy the entire park, Pelsor said they would sell it and he would retire, although that's not something he wants to do.
Pelsor said the area needs a farmers market, so next weekend, he's going to start having a farmers market with crafts at the park.
Pelsor said he and Robertson bought the theme park in 2014 for about $2.2 million.
When asked if the $3 million asking price was optimistic, Pelsor said, "In negotiation, down seems to be the only way you go. You don't never want to start down and work your way up."
Metro on 03/12/2016