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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower Zack and Laura Kraus, with baby Gray and pup Ellie, are pictured in the Haight-Ashbury camper. Decorated in bright, sunny colors, it hearkens back to 1960s San Francisco. The Kraus family in June will open the Flamingo Springs trailer resort near Prairie Grove.

When the 1950s-inspired trailer resort Flamingo Springs officially opens this June, denizens of Prairie Grove might find their small town inching ever closer to being a prime vacation destination. After all, The Junk Ranch -- a huge, open air flea market -- has been attracting thousands to the area twice a year for five years now.

Now, entrepreneurs Laura and Zack Kraus -- along with their perma-smiling, world's-most-charming toddler Gray and adorable pup Ellie -- have given folks a new reason to visit the area with their throwback resort.

Spend the night

Flamingo Springs Resort

flamingospringstrailerresort.com

Even the directions to the resort are slightly kitschy: On the outskirts of Prairie Grove, turn on Greasy Valley Road, just past Country Lane Liquor, and take the windy, scenic road about 5 miles to Flamingo Springs. On each side are rolling hills, green and lush.

"It feels like you're going out on an adventure," said Laura of the drive. "We looked at so many places up here, and honestly, we would get halfway down the road and tell our Realtor, 'You can turn around.' Because it doesn't matter if the property is magical if getting here isn't magical, too."

The couple thinks the environment is perfect for a variety of celebrations -- girls' weekends, family and class reunions -- but agree they hope it will become an artistic retreat of sorts, as well.

"We're dreamers," said Laura. "We wanted to create something so people could come and write a novel or set up an easel and paint the mountains. We see it more as an artistic collaboration center, and we're really excited about hosting yoga and wellness and meditation retreats on the weekends."

They're busy putting the finishing touches on the eight themed vintage trailers -- ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s -- that circle a pool and lounging area outside, complete with patio furniture from the same era. Each trailer has a quirky theme: There's one that hearkens back to 1960s San Francisco, one that is completely Christmas-themed and one called "The One with the Trailer" that celebrates the television show "Friends."

"The tackier the better," said Laura with a laugh. "The conversation we had pretty early on was that if we're going to do it, let's really do it. Some of our ideas, we couldn't come up with a way to make them tacky enough."

The game room inside the adjacent Quonset hut offers a variety of activities for residents and is a party for the eyes -- Laura used a projector to paint a giant, 14-foot flamingo paint-by-number painting on the wall, VHS tapes are stored in an old cigarette tray and "take-and-leave" books line the walls. A ping pong table and a pool table invite friendly games between residents. The vibe is retro, laid-back fun.

Although Laura is originally from Arkansas, the couple met when both were living and working in California. Zack was a theater graduate student when the couple met through their bartending jobs. Their first foray into business together was to turn a 1954 Hanson Love Bug trailer into a cute boutique they towed around to different area flea markets. When they married, they decided they wanted to be closer to Laura's family -- so both quit their jobs and headed to eastern Arkansas, where they had their wedding.

"We were on our honeymoon in Thailand, in the ocean, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives," said Zack. "We had visited a trailer resort in Joshua Tree [National Park in California] that we fell in love with."

The original plan was to launch the resort in Nashville -- close enough to Laura's family in eastern Arkansas but in a more urban environment. When Laura got a job as a production designer on "Parker's Anchor," a feature film shot in Northwest Arkansas, that all changed.

"Zack came with me [to work]," she said. "I was working with donors and sponsors and a lot of people in the community and the artists in the art scene here, and I fell in love with it. Zack was just kind of driving around, and he fell in love with the natural beauty. He discovered Prairie Grove and the old downtown."

"I'm always drawn to a community that spends money on things like murals in the downtown area," said Zack of Northwest Arkansas' public art efforts. "That tells me they care about the community, they care about the arts, and they care about growing the arts community."

"And we kind of did a 180,"said Laura. "We thought, 'OK, let's consider this town instead of Nashville.' We can get more bang for our buck. It's the exact same distance from my family."

Finding the perfect site for the resort wasn't easy. The couple looked at more than 50 properties, Laura said, hoping to find land with a structure already built as a sort of head start for the project. But when they found nothing suitable, they realized they would have to build from scratch. For two relative newcomers to building and opening a business, it was daunting, but that didn't stop the couple from jumping in.

"We ended up buying this piece of raw land, which scared us to death because we were starting with nothing," Laura said. "I mean, there was no driveway, there was no water, no electricity -- nothing. It was completely raw land. We had to create a vision but had to go through all of the soil testing, and that kind of thing -- we really didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. It's been the scariest two years of our lives, especially because we have 'X' amount of money saved up and when that money runs out, it's like, 'OK, we've got six more months that we can live on.'"

Once they'd purchased the land, the couple got busy making their dream come true. Zack has basic carpentry skills after years of working in theater scene shops -- but his skill set also included a lot of self-taught carpentry, courtesy of YouTube videos.

"I'll come with a project that needs to be done, and he spends a day watching YouTube videos and teaching himself how to do it," said Laura. "And then he does it."

"And then I do it wrong and re-do it," said Zack with a laugh.

Getting the Quonset hut erected was the first big project.

"It had to be cheap, and it had to be aesthetically pleasing," Zack said of the search for an appropriate structure to serve as the resort's office and the family's living quarters. "So I found [this Quonset hut], and I was kind of obsessed with it. But nobody knew how to hook this up. So we had to search to find somebody, and, eventually, found a contractor who didn't have any experience. But he was super interested in the creative opportunity, which was the best case scenario for us. They built these exterior walls and then the tall walls in the middle for us."

Laura and Zack did the rest, completing the interior of the space and creating a charming living space for their small family. Halfway through the process, they got an unexpected -- but happy -- surprise.

"We went through two paint sprayers that broke, and I found out I was pregnant," said Laura. "I said, 'We'll just finish this later, I just need a bed.'"

"That was after she had been spraying paint on a 10-foot ladder for three days," added Zack.

Laura was responsible for hunting and gathering the vintage and antique touches that give the Quonset hut its suitably retro vibe -- like the green bar used as a front desk and the pink door on barn rails, mounted deer head above, that serves as the door between the public and private parts of the office.

"I've been collecting retro and vintage for this project for three years," she said. The swag available in the front office includes vintage-style hotel key chains and brightly colored T-shirts with the Flamingo Springs logo prominently displayed. The T-shirts were designed by a local artist. Laura said the couple uses local artists for projects whenever possible.

"Jason Jones did the front of our building, and Chad at Big Bots did our T-shirts," she said. "We want to tie in that community as much as possible because those are people that are kind of paving the way for a lot of us. They're making a living off of the arts, supporting their families that way, which is scary when it comes to art. And so they've really built a reputation for this area."

If Zack and Laura's dreams are realized, they, too, will be part of that reputation.

"We want to create something that is an oasis for people to come and create and be inspired," Laura said.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower The game room includes a 14-foot tall flamingo paint-by-number painting that Laura Kraus created herself, as well as a huge collection of vintage paint-by-numbers she found over several years.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower Zack Kraus built the cheerful building that houses the shower and restroom facilities; Laura collected vintage camper and trailer license plates from all over the country.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/Lara Jo Hightower The Haight-Ashbury is one of eight campers available from which lodgers can choose. Each trailer has a quirky theme -- from Christmas to a celebration the television show "Friends." "The tackier the better," Laura Kraus said of the trailers at Flamingo Springs.

NAN Our Town on 05/17/2018

Print Headline: Throwback Thursday

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