Newton County Times
By JEFF DEZORT firstname.lastname@example.org
JASPER — Bob Ziehmer, senior director of conservation for Bass Pro Shops, the premiere outdoor and conservation company whose mission is to inspire everyone to enjoy, love and conserve the great outdoors, said he welcomes the opportunity to work with state and local officials as the Springfield, Missouri-based business develops one of its latest projects, the Marble Falls Nature Park.
Ziehmer and other company officials, attended the quarterly meeting of the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) held at the Jasper School Cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon. They were featured on the agenda to present what Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO John L. “Johnny” Morris has in mind for the former Dogpatch USA theme park in Newton County.
Morris purchased the 400-acre piece of property just over a year ago. At the time the company announced in a press release that Morris was in the early stages of exploring specific plans for the property, but any possible future development will be an extension of his other projects, which aim to connect families to nature.
Ziehmer confirmed that the project is continuing towards that goal of meeting the company’s three pillars of protecting wildlife and habitat, connecting new audiences to the outdoors and advocating for sportsmen’s rights and the outdoors.
The BRCC was established by an Executive Order of Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2019. Its purpose is to implement projects in the Buffalo River Watershed to protect the quality and enhance the value of the Buffalo National River in partnership with local stakeholders.
Members of the committee are the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Department of Energy and Environment and the Department of Health. Wes Ward, secretary of the agriculture department, is the chairman and he presided over Tuesday’s meeting. While several of the members attended virtually, many of their staff members were present.
Spencer Jones, PE, Great River Engineering, of Springfield, Missouri, involved in the development of the former theme park, gave the committee a sneak peak of what Bass Pro Shop’s newest outdoor venue will be about. Its name is Marble Falls Nature Park and will have features almost identical to the much larger Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe, Missouri.
Spencer said the park will focus on the community’s history which includes being the site where a block of marble was quarried, carved and transported to the nation’s capital in 1836 and was one of the first stones to be incorporated into the Washington Monument. The site was also where Peter Bellah built the original water powered grist mill. The town, then known as Marble City, became a health resort featuring the healing waters from the spring. Later, Albert Raney Sr. developed the site on Mill Creek into a trout hatchery which eventually led to the development of the area into Dogpatch USA.
Like Dogwood Canyon, Marble Falls Nature Park may include a working mill and restaurant, offer trout fishing and fly-fishing lessons, provide wildlife tours with displays of animals such as buffalo, horseback riding and mostly programs dedicated to educating the public on conservation.
The deterioration of the theme park has had a negative impact on the water quality of the creek which is a part of the Buffalo River Watershed.
Water resources appears to be the priority issue of the new owner. Spencer said working with BRCC will be needed to repair and update the drinking water and waste water systems serving the park and the surrounding community. The Basin Valley Water District has a very leaky system. It was built in 1969. “They are pumping more water than they are selling.”
The gravity sewer system was also built in 1969. It was designed to operate with a large flow, but with the lower flow today it does not meet discharge limits, Spencer said.
Another area of concern is the transportation system, namely state Highway 7. He said the highway’s alignment has created accidents and congestion. “We are working with the state to help address those issues.”
It comes down to a public/private partnership. The company is reaching out into the community to work with the Marble Falls Sewer Improvement District, the Basin Valley Water District and the Arkansas Department of Transportation to deal with these environmental and safety issues and improve the quality of life and economic development for the entire region, Spencer concluded in the presentation to the BRCC.