Mike Trusty and Kris Shewmake are both pilots and have been friends for nearly five decades. As business partners, the pair own Crystal Lake Airport (5M5) in Decatur, Arkansas, with Trusty also working as a telecommunications engineer and Shewmake as a plastic surgeon.
The airfield boasts a 3,863-foot by 75-foot asphalt runway and is just outside Bentonville, in the state’s Northwest corner. But the two are both longtime residents of Little Rock.
So how did they wind up becoming involved with the property, which is a three-hour drive from their homes?
“As far as that airport goes, I had traveled through that area a great deal and it had always been known as what I would call a very private airport. It was there primarily for use by a chicken production company, called Peterson Farms. They came about in the mid-1930s, and their primary purpose was to raise what they called breeder roosters,” Trusty said.
“The company had a whole fleet of aircraft, consisting of King Airs and Barons, and shipped their roosters all over the world. They would fly them on their planes to an international airport, where they would then be transported by a jet onwards, with a lot of customers being in Indonesia, China, and The Orient. Lloyd Peterson is probably responsible for chickens as prevalent as they are today, as far as a food staple.”
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Trusty noted that as the global economy changed through the decades, the company’s operations were affected. For many years, he observed this transition from an outsider’s perspective.
“Every time I drove by this place, I looked at it. Every time I talked to someone about it, they would say, ‘Oh yeah, that place is fantastic, but you can’t land there. You can’t go in there,’ and that sort of thing. And then one day a friend of mine called and said, ‘you aren’t going to believe this, but the airport is up for sale.”
“The very next day, I, along with my partner (Shewmake) bought it,” Trusty proudly recounted.
The two saw real potential in the airport at the time of their acquisition in December 2012. They not only purchased the 75-acre airport, but also some adjacent land—232 acres total.
“Prior to buying it, Mike and I drove through there [Crystal Lake] and I mean it’s just the most beautiful airport that I’ve ever seen. It’s right in the valley and has this big lake right beside it, hills and the airstrip are right there next to the lake. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to landing on an aircraft carrier, because part of the runway extends out into the lake. So, I’ll just pretend every time that I’m landing there, that I’m doing a carrier landing,” Shewmake said.
Really, the best way to see what he is talking about is to fly the approach in person. But this video by the YouTube channel Dozen Duzit is the next best thing. Starting at 8:55, the video shows clips of the airport, including a picturesque approach to landing over Crystal Lake—in a ScaleWings SW-51 Mustang.
Just as Northwest Arkansas is gaining traction within the national general aviation community, Crystal Lake has also become better positioned in recent years. Its two longtime advocates, Trusty and Shewmake, are extremely optimistic about the airport’s future.
The airport includes hangars and tie-down spaces, a lighted VASI approach (RWYs 13/31); and an RNAV (GPS) approach (RWY 13), as well as the Dixon Aviation flight school. The property also features a cave system that starts on one end of the property and extends all the way into the town of Decatur. According to reports, the cave collapsed into itself under the runway when it was being built in the 1950s and was never cleared.
The property’s rentable home sits roughly at the midpoint of the airport’s 3,863-foot asphalt runway. [Courtesy: Crystal Lake Airport]
Another notable aspect of the airport is that there are three homes presently on the property. All are original and date back to the Peterson days. One is where the business partners frequently travel with their families for a quick weekend getaway. Another is presently unused, and the third is listed as a vacation rental on both Airbnb and VRBO. The most enticing aspect of the property to pilots is that it’s situated only a few hundred feet away from the transient parking area at 5M5.
Residences near the runway has been a longtime vision for the business partners. For the last decade, they’ve considered building more houses on the property.
“The idea initially was that we would buy the airport and the surrounding land for our personal use. And we would let some of our friends move up here to live, if they wanted to,” Shewmake said.
“Northwest Arkansas is a great place to live and would be a great place to retire. We went through various plans of an aviation community based at the airport, with 200 homes on the property. But we stood up on the surrounding hills, looked down at the lake and airport and said, ‘We can’t do that to this land. We can’t put that many houses here. It would ruin the place,’” Shewmake said. “Then we came back to the initial idea of inviting 10 of our closest friends up here to live. That way, we could preserve all of the beauty that exists here. But we’ve gone back or forth [on what to do] for however long we have had the airport and have not really settled on anything.”
Because of several factors, the two feel the best path forward is an ownership transition. Consequently, the airport was listed for sale with a local brokerage in the winter of 2022, in the hopes that an equally passionate ownership group will propel 5M5 to meet its true potential.
“The problem is that I’m a surgeon, and Mike is an extremely busy engineer, so we haven’t had a lot of time to come out here and pursue these things that we had planned,” Shewmake said. “Not only that, now we’re too old to go out and borrow all the money needed—so we’ve decided that we are going to put [the property] on the market and try to sell it. Something needs to be done here for an aviation purpose. What we don’t want is some developer to just level it, get rid of the airport, the hangars, and just put a ton of homes in there,” Shewmake cautioned.
“We really haven’t been able to commit the time, the energy, or the money to build the airport into what I feel that it could be. We were hoping that some other younger investors with more time could come in and just make it one of the premier aviation communities in the country. And I think that it could be, especially with its proximity to Bentonville. There is just so much stuff happening in Northwest Arkansas now, that we think it is a great place to live. And I wouldn’t mind buying a lot up here if someone does [build an airpark at Crystal Lake Airport]!”
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