Published Mar/Apr 2005

Above: Branson’s many shopping venues include the Grand Country Market

Below: The 55-mile Mulberry River in North Arkansas (above) received high marks from the floating public.

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The Ozarks history is like an heirloom quilt, stitched together
with threads of stories, music and an enduring homespun philosophy.

For decades, vacationers have wrapped themselves in this history while enjoying some of the country’s most beautiful natural scenery.
Covering 48,000 square miles, mainly in Missouri and Arkansas, the Ozarks

is a land of rivers and hills that has inspired writers, musicians and artisans.

Author and photographer Leland Payton calls the Ozarks one of America’s greatest mythic regions. He and his wife, Crystal, have written several books about the area, including See the Ozarks. He has collected Ozark memorabilia for about 30 years and estimates 5,000 items in his collection.

“The Ozarks is a reaffirmation of what your ordinary life is,” Payton says. “Many people who have vacationed in the Ozarks have come here for generations.”

It’s no surprise that this region could produce a vacation anyone would enjoy. Let these cities and activities jump-start your Ozark vacation this year.

The Queen City

Called the Queen City of the Ozarks, Springfield is Missouri’s third largest city. There are many jewels in this queen’s crown— historic sites, museums, family attractions, restaurants and a variety of accommodations.

Sports-minded visitors now can watch baseball, beginning in spring 2005, at Hammons Field, new home to the Springfield Cardinals, the Double A farm club for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Southwest Missouri State Baseball Bears also will play their home games at Hammons Field. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World are popular stops.

History buffs will enjoy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield— site of an 1861 Civil War battle— and Springfield National Cemetery, where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried.

Family attractions include the newly expanded Dickerson Park Zoo, Exotic Animal Paradise, Fantastic Caverns, and Discovery Center, an interactive museum for youngsters. The Wonders of Wildlife National Fish and Wildlife Museum and Zooquarium is adding the first 3-D IMAX theater in Missouri.

Branson: Of Music and Minnows

This vacation destination with fewer than 7,000 year-round residents seems far removed from the early 1900s, when the railroad and Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Shepherd of the Hills brought Branson’s first tourist boom. In the 1920s and ’30s, it was common to see Hollywood celebrities or rich, young Texas women playing at Rockaway Beach, Payton says.

Today, the three lakes in the area appeal to a new generation of families and fishermen, and there are more than enough diversions— shows, attractions and shopping— to entertain visitors when they are off the water.

Branson Landing is the biggest development on the horizon. Situated on 95 acres between U.S. Highway 65 and Lake Taneycomo, the $300 million development combines shopping, dining, hotel, condominiums and a convention center. Bass Pro Shops will be one of the larger retail tenants. Branson Landing is scheduled to open in spring 2006.

Last year, Branson achieved a record-breaking 100 shows. Music— country, swing, big band, rock, blues— plus comedy and magic shows will suit almost any taste. Shepherd of the Hills Homestead presents a nighttime pageant based on Wright’s novel. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays at Mansion America Theater.

Shows for 2005 include the Acrobats of China, featuring the New Shanghai Circus, opening its eighth season in a new location, the New Shanghai Theater.

Theme parks— Silver Dollar City and Celebration City— and a host of other attractions will keep visitors busy day or night. Powder Keg, an explosive launch roller coaster that’s fashioned after century-old powder mills, debuts in the spring at Silver Dollar City.

Shop at outlet malls, shopping centers and specialty stores to find new Ozark treasure. In the summer, make a splash at White Water, the area’s largest outdoor water park or take a tour on Ride the Ducks. Can’t wait until the weather warms up? Grand Country Square has indoor and outdoor water fun. Play a round of golf at eight 18-hole courses or two nine-hole courses in the area.

The Branson area is fortunate to have three lakes— Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals— to offer water enthusiasts more than enough recreational opportunities. Though visitors can swim, boat and fish on any of the lakes, each one has its own charm.

Lake Taneycomo retains the look and feel of a river. Because it’s a cold water lake, Taneycomo is excellent for trout fishing.

Bull Shoals Lake flows eastward from Forsyth into Arkansas and features a rugged, less-developed shoreline. It is a popular tournament lake for anglers.

Table Rock is the largest of the lakes. With 745 miles of shoreline, Table Rock is the water activity destination for the area.

Cindy Morris, president of the Table Rock Chamber of Commerce, has noticed the lakes pulling more families into the area since the 9/11 tragedy.

“What I’ve seen is more families that include grandma and grandpa coming for a reconnection. We are becoming the Ozark Mountain family playground,” Morris said.

In addition to the water recreation, families can enjoy hiking trails and historical sights around the lake. Also, state Highway 13 is a scenic road that connects several historic communities around Table Rock, including Reeds Spring and Kimberling City, the biggest town on the lake. Efforts are underway to designate Highway 13 as a national scenic byway.

Morris said Table Rock pulls from Branson and works in partnership with the entertainment destination.

“The lake was here before the boom of Branson. The natural beauty of the area, the mountains, clean water and affordability make our lake vacation special,” she said.

The Art of Kicking Back

Whether coming to Eureka Springs, Ark., to sightsee, browse the art galleries and studios, soak in a restorative bath or even get married, chances are you’ll slow down to savor each moment.

At 125 years, this Ozark charmer is kicking with an active artists’ colony, plenty of attractions and outdoor recreation. The Great Passion Play has attracted faithful audiences for 35 years.

America’s Victorian Village has been beautifully preserved, as has its history. Visitors today usually come into town for the baths, steam treatments and massages that folks have enjoyed here since the turn of the 19th century.

Those earlier amenities have been improved upon. There are a variety of spas in town that offer wonderful treatments such as aromatherapy, acupressure and primordial sound medication, in addition to massages and baths.

A (Host of) Rivers Runs Through It

What lured tourists to the Ozarks long ago— natural beauty and bountiful rivers— can still be found today. Whether they choose to float or fish, the Ozarks have hundreds of miles of rivers to offer a variety of recreation opportunities.

Payton and his wife prefer to escape to one of their favorite Ozark spots, Shannon County near Big Spring.

“It has the largest contiguous area of natural forest that shows inordinate stability. It hasn’t changed much in 50 years and probably won’t. When Crystal and I have some time, that’s where we head,” Payton says.

The Current River is fed in part by Big Spring. The Current, as well as its tributary, the Jacks Fork River, makes up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which are managed by the National Park Service. Encompassing 134 miles
of shoreline, this gentle wilderness is a favorite with novice and experienced floaters. Grab a canoe or an inner tube and jump in the river.

Another good Ozark stream is the Eleven Point River, which begins above Thomasville. Most floaters put in at Greer and meander downstream to Whitten, about 11 miles. The Eleven Point is spring fed and runs through Mark Twain National Forest.

In north Arkansas, the Buffalo River flows 150 miles east until it meets with the White River. Other Arkansas Ozark rivers to explore include the Mulberry and Big Piney.

It’s All Here

Pick your season— the Ozarks are ready to welcome visitors. Spring means blooming mountainsides, fishing and Branson Fest, a showcase of the area’s music, food and art. Summer is the busy season for families, and fall— blazing with color— is a favorite with arts and crafts collectors. Christmas in the Ozarks truly is inspiring, and winter is perfect for quiet escapes, romantic getaways or family weekends.

The Ozarks is a region proud of its past and confident of a bright future. For Payton, there’s no place like it in the world.

“A sensitivity for nature is still around— although it’s been subjected to pop culture— but it’s a good representation of a pioneering attitude. The Ozarks is based on something being achievable and everybody having a place,” he said.

Find your place in the Ozarks.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of
AAA’s Midwest Traveler and Southern Traveler.

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