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The thriving businesses of 'Old' Highway 71

Businesses along the old Highway 71 haven't faded away, not even over 20 years after Interstate 49 opened.

MOUNTAINBURG, Ark. — It’s been more than 20 years since I-49 opened between Alma and Fayetteville. And since that time, you might think businesses along the old Highway 71 have faded away. You’d be wrong.

Take are drive along the old highway and one of the first things you’ll notice is not a lot of traffic. Not like back in the day before I-49 opened 23 years ago. But that doesn’t mean business is dead.

In fact, things aren’t bad at all at most of the businesses located on the highway, even for those that recently opened. One of those is the Lakeview Overlook, an old RV park with an old gift shop and a house.

Owner Bill Collier bought the property a number of years ago with the idea of living there. But that quickly changed.

“I had a guy knock on my door one day wanted to stay in it and I said it’s not open," Collier said. “He said, 'I wanna stay there.' I said, 'I don’t care.' He moved in, somebody saw his trailer, next thing you know I’m in the RV business."

Glenn Jorgenson and his family took over the Sky Vue Lodge in 1994. He says business was good before I-49 opened, but he says it was actually better the year after the interstate opened in January of 1999.

“Our gross income went up 25 percent the first year," Jorgenson said. “It actually helped us. We figured it would and we had done several things in preparation for that to hopefully drive the traffic here.” 

Jorgenson says it was slow for any businesses along the old Highway 71 until they all banded together to put out a travel brochure the spring the new freeway opened. "It was a little three-fold, two-color brochure with about five or six businesses in it and now it’s an eight-fold open this way with a map on the inside and a key, and there’s about 32 businesses in it.”  

Both men say they get out-of-state visitors, but some are those who visit nearby locations. “The park will be over full and they’ll call me and ask me if they can send somebody up here and word of mouth and the next thing you know, I’m in the businesses," Collier said.

Jorgenson says “Sky Vue is not a destination, per se, although we are within an hour, hour and 15 minutes of fairly major attractions [such as] Devils Den, Lake Fort Smith State Park.”

They also say things have picked back up after COVID travel restrictions eased up. "We had one of the best springs we’ve had in about 3 years with all of our retreat groups coming back. This fall is already looking good,” Jorgenson said.

Collier told us “it’s just people who see it and they want to stay here and its full. I have to turn people away.” He says as far as he’s concerned, he’s loved every minute of being in the RV park business. “I’ve met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. People that RV travel, vacation in them, they’re just beautiful people.” 

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