The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

August 2, 2013

Trails give tourists chance to get out in Ozarks

BRANSON, Mo. — Garrett Anderson is proud of the hiking and biking trails offered in the Branson area.

"We see a lot of our Branson visitors use the trails," Anderson said. "Visitors use them just as much as our locals do, if not more."

Anderson, Branson's economic development director, said getting out in the Ozarks is part of the tourist destination's heritage.

"The way Branson became popular in the first place is because of the natural environment, natural beauty and the availability of the clean air and fresh lakes," he said. "'The Shepherd of the Hills' book was the first thing that brought Branson to national prominence. The writer of the book (Harold Bell Wright) came down here from Chicago for his health and to experience the fresh air and get away from the big city."

With more than 10 miles of trails within Branson's city limits and dozens of other trails designed for hiking, biking and horseback riding nearby, Anderson said he thinks the future of outdoor recreation in and around Branson is bright.

Trails, he said, improve the quality of life for the city's residents and seasonal visitors. Like in many communities, including Joplin, Branson officials are taking steps to expand and improve the city's trail system and connectivity.

"We are working on connecting the trails that currently exist, both to each other and to some of the major destinations in the community," he said. "Right now not a lot of people use the trails specifically from point A to point B. Primarily they are recreational, but we are trying to create some links here and there that people can access and use a bicycle."

Though he's a proponent of all of the city's recreational areas, Anderson said he is partial to a couple of the community's trails.

"One of my favorite areas is the Lakeside Forest Area Trails," he said. "It's a 140-acre nature preserve in the middle of town. Lake Taneycomo is on the south, with Highway 76 on the north and Fall Creek Road on the west. It was owned by the (Lyle) Owen family, and they sold it to the city back in 1999."

The area includes wooded hills, bluffs and glades, and two easily navigated trails. At one point, a set of 315 stone steps built between 1937 and 1938 lead hikers down a path toward Lake Taneycomo, where a soldier's cave and small waterfall can be found.

Set in mortar on one of the steps is an inscription dedicated to those who built the steep trail and steps. It reads: "Let those who tread here not forget that these steps were not made of stone and mortar alone, but of sweat, blood and agony." Near the bottom of the steep descent on one of the steps are inscriptions with the names of those who toiled in their making.

The trail is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the season and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. Featured at the Wilderness Area is the Lyle Owen homestead.

"There's an old historic house that Mr. Owen used to live in," he said. "It was built in 1911 and is beautiful property."

The site includes a barn and 2,000 feet of hand-built stone walls. Work is under way to renovate the property and improve access to it.

The Lake Forest Wilderness Area offers about four miles of trails. Branson-area Boy Scout troops play a big role in the construction and upkeep of the parks and trails. Anderson recruits the scouts as needed to help accomplish projects.

"The city is in the process of improving the parking and ... an entrance right now," he said. "Bass Pro Shops has helped us to build a big gateway on the entrance to the park."

While music, comedy shows and themed attractions may be Branson's bread and butter, the city's recreational opportunities aren't to be forgotten. Websites have been created to focus attention on the city's efforts to ensure trails and healthy activities are highlighted for locals and tourists alike.

"Maps are available," Anderson said. "There is a separate page for each of the parks and each of the trails throughout Branson."

Another one of Anderson's favorite Branson places is within easy walking distance of Branson Landing.

"Stockstill Park Trails, which is right in the Roark Valley, has about two and a half miles of trails and a park," he said, noting that the trails wrap around two ball fields and includes pavilions and paved walkways. "We are working on paving some more of it this fall and improving the quality of those trails as well. Both are great walks."

More information

The city's website, www.branso nmo.gov, and the parks department's site, www.bransonparksand recreation.com, offer detailed descriptions and maps of Branson's seven trails and walking paths. Brochures are available at Branson RecPlex, the town's sports and recreation complex.

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