October 11, 2017 Edition

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A weekend fire of undetermined origin gutted the Walnut Ridge Country Club building. The private club, located near the airport, had closed in April.
TD Photo ~ John Bland

Fire guts country club building

John Bland

A fire has gutted the Walnut Ridge Country Club building, located near the northeastern edge of the Walnut Ridge Airport's Swindle Field. The club had closed in April, due to financial problems and roof damage due to high winds in March.

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp said there is no reason to suspect arson, but neither is there a known cause for the fire. The building was not hooked up to electrical power.

On Tuesday, Fire Chief Frank Owens told Mayor Snapp that the State Police have assigned an agent to investigate the fire.

The fire is believed to have occurred early Sunday morning, not long after midnight, Snapp said. The fire was not reported until a deputy came upon the remains of the smoldering building during patrol on Sunday.

People who live in the area of the Country Club building reported that they saw no evidence of fire as they were going home around midnight, Snapp said. However, it is Snapp's understanding that security cameras at the airport show flames appearing at the building around 12:30 or 1 a.m. on Sunday.

The building is owned by the city as part of a land grant of 1950; however, the Airport Commission has control of the land's usage. Snapp said that Airport Commission Chairman Don Cavenaugh told him that the airport still has insurance on the building.

The clubhouse building was built in 1972 to complement an already existing nine-hole golf course. In addition to the clubhouse and golf cart sheds, the facility also had a tennis court and swimming pool.

The clubhouse and golf course closed down on June 20, 2010, at the mandate of a court ruling. The close proximity of the airport runway and golf course fairways had been a legal issue for the Walnut Ridge Airport, the City of Walnut Ridge and the Walnut Ridge Country Club for over two years.

After closing, several club members, led by farmer Greg Gill, removed some 80 trees, stumps and tee boxes from the course in an attempt to bring the airport back into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

After that effort, the clubhouse, minus the golf course, was reopened in July of that same year and remained open almost seven years.

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