A River Runs Through It
Former Memphian Maurice Lipsey has created a gorgeous getaway in central Arkansas on the banks of the Little Red River.
photographs by Justin Fox Burks
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Seventeen years ago, Memphian Maurice Lipsey decided to follow a dream that he’d had from the age of 15. As a teen, Lipsey took a scuba certification test at Greers Ferry Lake and fell in love with the nearby town of Heber Springs, Arkansas, the clear, deep lake, and the sparkling Little Red River that flows from beneath the Greers Ferry dam.
The dream was deferred for decades, as Lipsey built a successful business — Security Watch — in Memphis, but his heart was always 100 miles west, in the hills and hollows of central Arkansas. When security giant ADT came calling in the late 1990s and bought him out, Lipsey made his move. He purchased 250 rolling, mostly wooded acres on the Little Red, just southeast of Heber Springs, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Memphis.
“Then I just had to figure out how to pay for it,” Lipsey says. “One night, over a bottle of wine (or two), I came up with my quarter-share idea, and I started building three cabins on the river to make it happen. Now I’ve built 10, and just started the 11th.” He’s also built his own “bar” on site. More about that later.
Lipsey doesn’t like the term “time-share,” but his quarter-share plan is somewhat similar. A quarter-share in one of his cabins gets you one week a month at Fat Possum Hollow, which is the name of Lipsey’s dream place.
The great majority of Fat Possum’s part-time residents (quarter-shareholders) are Memphians. And many of them have been coming for years, bringing their children to enjoy the country air, the river, the horses, the hiking, and the camaraderie. On some weekends, Fat Possum most resembles a rustic Memphis neighborhood, with each cabin’s driveway occupied by a vehicle with Shelby County plates.
One of those vehicles is likely to belong to Paul and Jennifer Chandler, who’ve been coming to Fat Possum for many years.
Paul is the executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Center and is one of Fat Possum’s early converts. “I started coming before I was married,” he says. “It was in the late 1990s, when Maurice was just getting started. There were just three cabins.
— Maurice Lipsey
“I met Maurice when we were both living downtown,” Chandler continues. “I heard about what he was doing at Fat Possum from my friend and fishing buddy, Ken Dick. So I called Maurice and asked if I could come over. He put me in Cabin One and introduced me to the barn bar, and I was hooked. I signed up for a share, started bringing my friends, and they started signing up, and pretty soon there was a great bunch of Memphis folks over there.”
Jennifer Chandler is a chef and food writer, the author of a successful series of cookbooks (Simply Salads, Simply Grilling, Simply Suppers). She is a self-proclaimed city girl. “My idea of a great getaway is going to New York City and staying in a nice hotel,” she says. “But I tell my friends, going to Fat Possum isn’t like camping. It’s comfortable and there are so many things to do in the area. We always have a great time.”
The Chandlers started bringing their daughters, Hannah, 13, and Sarah, 11, when they were toddlers. “Back then,” Paul says, “we’d bring them over and let them run around the pastures or play on the playground while we just relaxed. It was our getaway, a place to rest and sleep. Now, I’m proud to say they’ve both learned to cast a line and catch a trout.”
Paul says he catches at least two or three big trout at Fat Possum each year, but his greatest thrill was putting his friend, Memphian Tommy Prest, on the fish of a lifetime. “I set up Tommy’s rig, coached him on how to present the fly, and he caught a 33-inch, 19-and-a-half- pound rainbow.” The picture of Chandler, Prest, and the big one that didn’t get away is framed and hanging in the barn bar.
The Little Red has long been known for its world-class trout fishing. But the public access points are often crowded, and finding a nice unmolested pool is difficult. Fat Possum offers fishermen a perfect wade-in spot that’s only approachable from a limited stretch of private shoreline — no mobs of flailing bait-fishermen, no boats buzzing by, just pristine wadeable water and the occasional kayaker. A deep run just off a small point of shallow water on the property has yielded a number of very large trout through the years.