by Max Brantley
Remember the Ozark Medieval Fortress?
It drew huge attention, from the New York Times on down, after French investors purchased property in Boone County, between Lead Hill and Omaha, to recreate a medieval fortress using authentic construction methods, from stone masonry to forging of metal fittings. It opened in May 2010. The idea, based on a similar attraction in France, was to attract paying visitors ($18 for adults in the last season) to watch and learn about the construction, which was said to take 20 years to complete. It was named one of the state's top 10 tourist attractions.
Things apparently haven't run exactly according to plan. Though a call to the phone says the fortress will reopen for the tourist season in April, the website says it won't reopen in 2012 and no reservations are being taken. I've been unable to reach any of the French leaders of the project, but Arkansas Tourism Director Joe David Rice said he'd learned the attraction wouldn't be opening this year. Agencies that have advertised the attraction in the past are making plans not to include it in advertising brochures this year.
Rice said he had only limited information. But he said the venture had attempted to find additional investors for this year. When the effort was unsuccessful, operators made the decision not to open this year but to try to retrench. I've messaged two of the venture's leaders for more information, but I've yet to find anyone so far who can tell me more, including whether anyone remains on the grounds, which are some distance off Highway 14.
Kat Robinson took the full tour on her Tie Dye Travels blog, with lots of photos of the signifcant amount of construction already completed.
Rice said he'd visited and watched artisans and craftsmen in period garb (save for some safety garb, such as helmets, required by modern law) performing such tasks as making ropes, mixing mortar and dye and looming materials. The French operation had the benefit of being within a short train ride of the huge population of Paris, he noted.
UPDATE: I just heard by e-mail from Noemi Brunet, wife of Michel Guyot, the archaeologist behind the project. She wrote:
As Joe David told you, for financial reasons, we won't be operating in 2012. Actually, we are now looking for a person to sell the project to, or an investor.