Cruising is Cool in Branson

Visitors who remember Branson, Missouri, in the early 1990s might have a hard time believing they are in the same tourism town today.

The town that used to be synonymous with traffic jams now confidently promotes its new roads and new routes. Its most famous roadway, the Highway 76 “Strip,” appears much as it did when national and international news media discovered Branson’s unmatched entertainment industry about 15 years ago. As they have for years, the Strip’s three lanes carry visitors to the dozens of entertainment venues, theme parks, lakes, golf courses, family attractions, shopping areas and a vast array of restaurants and hotels.

The difference is the speed and convenience of traveling from point A to point B. The legendary Branson traffic jams are really a thing of the past. Traffic that used to proceed at a crawl now flows quickly enough to plan a time of arrival, yet slowly enough to enjoy the sights.

A network of side roads, most just over the hill from the Strip, provides convenient access to locations on and off the main drag.

“Over the past 15 or so years, the City of Branson has invested more than $40 million to build or rebuild about 18 miles of roads,” said Ross Summers, president of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “These roads are in addition to the improvements made by the Missouri Department of Transportation. When our tourism industry was launched from regional to national status, improving traffic flow became the top priority. The new roads allowed us to designate ‘colored routes’ to make it easier for visitors to reach specific destinations on and off Highway 76. It’s been one of our most successful promotions.”
“Colored routes” lead the way to attractions

The colored routes were created by the Chamber/CVB’s Transportation Committee from a program that began as the “Branson Roads Scholar” promotion. An advisory group of local and regional professionals representing business and government volunteered their time and imaginations to help visitors to find their way more easily around Branson.

The Blue Route begins at Highway 76 and Roark Valley Road and parallels Highway 76 just to the north. It meets Gretna Road and takes motorists westward to Highway 76 at Highway 165.

The Red Route is designated from North Business Highway 65 in downtown Branson. North Business 65 becomes Highway 248 and then turns westward on the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, ending at the intersection with the Highway 76 “Strip.” The Red Route roughly parallels Highway 76 slightly further north than the Blue Route.

The Yellow Route begins on Fall Creek Road off Highway 76 and parallels 76 to the south. From Fall Creek Road, the Yellow Route turns north briefly on Wildwood Drive, then west on Green Mountain Drive. It ends at Highway 376 just off Highway 76.

New signage is being designed for the colored routes, and maps are available at many locations in Branson.
Branson attracts cars like a magnet

It’s no surprise that a tourism community that attracts motorists like a magnet should also attract collections of cars. In the past several years, Branson has become the site of several major automobile-oriented events.

New this season, the Hemmings Branson Vintage Car Rally will be held June 11-15. Dozens of vehicles, none more recent than 1948 models, will compete for $60,000 in prizes in a five-day, 200-mile rally that demands precise attention to time, speed and distance. Each day, the rally sends drivers and their antique vehicles in a different direction with “checkpoints” along the way. The goal is to reach each checkpoint at the “perfect” time.

Residents in a large portion of the Ozarks will have an opportunity to see the rally participants. “Lunch with the Cars” stops are planned in

* Rogers, Ark. on June 11 with stops in Cassville, Mo., and Eureka Springs, Ark.;
* Clinton, Mo., on June 12 with stops in Bolivar, Collins and Wheatland, Mo.;
* Springfield, Mo., on June 13 with stops in Aurora and Crane, Mo.;
* Lebanon, Mo., on June 14 with two stops in Marshfield; and
* Harrison, Ark., on June 15 with stops in Green Forest and Yellville, Ark.

The rally begins and ends each day at the host hotel, the Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing.

The Branson Vintage Car Rally is sponsored by the Vintage Car Rally Association (VCRA) and Hemmings Motor News magazine. VCRA events benefit an organization called Unlocking Autism for research and treatment of autistic children.

The Vintage Car Rally comes to Branson through one of its members, Jim Cox. A longtime resident of Branson, Cox hosts large collector car auctions each spring and fall in Branson.

Branson is also the home of the Super Summer Cruise, which holds its eleventh annual event Aug. 9-11. Hosted by the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Theatre, the cruise draws more than 500 vehicles for the “Show and Shine” judging, awards, entertainment and the famous “Midnight Cruise.” Jim Grady, special events coordinator for Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, said the crowd lining the cruise’s route is estimated at 50,000 to 70,000 spectators. Entries in the Super Summer Cruise range from vintage and collector cars to street rods and “special interest” vehicles.

“The special interest vehicles include ‘kit’ cars and those that are made from scratch,” Grady said. “For instance, for the last three years, a car with two front ends and two steering wheels has been entered. It can be driven from either end.”

Grady said the Super Summer Cruise participants don’t seem to worry about Branson’s traffic flow. “When they are driving their cars around Branson, they don’t care about how fast or slow they drive. Actually, they like to drive slowly and ‘bask in the glory’ of their cars,” he said.
Auto collection, oddities are Branson attractions

Classic and collector cars are part of the Branson entertainment experience at all times of the year. At the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater, “‘57 Heaven” features a pristine collection of 1957 automobiles in an interactive museum designed as a 1957 American community. The collection includes every major American car manufacturer including the DeSoto, Nash, Studebaker, Packard and Hudson as well as the Buick, Chevrolet, Ford and Cadillac.

The collection is owned by Glenn Patch, a media entrepreneur with several business interests in the Branson area.

Another unusual vehicle is on permanent display at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!® Museum in Branson. A Cadillac stretch limousine built in 1982 features a heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub with room for four people. It also features a television and electric bar.

What may be the most instantly recognizable vehicle in American pop culture is also at home in the Branson area. The rusty old truck driven by “The Beverly Hillbillies” in the immensely popular 1960s television series is part of the permanent display at The College of the Ozarks’ Ralph Foster Museum. The museum is located on The College’s campus at Point Lookout, only two miles from downtown Branson.
Traffic improvements completed, more are underway

Branson’s visitors this season will see improvements just completed and some roadwork in progress as they move about the town. Most visitors arrive in Branson via U.S. Highway 65, and its intersection with Highway 76 (the “Strip) has been widened. The intersection of Highway 76 and Roark Valley Road has also been improved to ease the east-west traffic flow. Forsythe Street, which connects Roark Valley Road with West 76, is undergoing major improvements at private expense. A developer is rearranging the street to decrease its steep slope and adding a connection for access to Tanger Outlet Center, according to City of Branson Engineer David Miller.

Miller also said a connector road is being built between Roark Valley Road and West 76 at Fall Creek Road. Several buildings have been removed from the West 76-Fall Creek Road intersection to make room for the realigned intersection.

Miller, who became Branson’s city engineer in 1990, remembers the state of traffic at the time. Most of the roads that now make up the network of alternate “colored routes” didn’t exist.

“There was no Wildwood or Green Mountain Drive,” he said. “Gretna Road didn’t really connect to any other road. And the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway had been privately built only a few years before and the road had to be closed when Roark Creek rose with the rains.”

“There weren’t a lot of options for motorists at that time,” he said. “Visitors who remember driving in Branson at that time will certainly see the difference.”

Comments Off on Cruising is Cool in Branson