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According to the Branson, Missouri website http://www.branson-missouri.com/history.asp, “Branson, Missouri is known today as the ‘live music capital of the world’ but it has a rich history dating back to its first days in the 1800s. Starting with a small store at a riverboat stop, the city now boasts over 40 theaters with 60,000 theater seats, over 70 live theater shows, over 200 lodging facilities with over 23,000 lodging rooms, 5,000 camping spaces, over 350 restaurants, three lakes, 9 golf courses, over 200 retail outlets, numerous attractions, caves to explore and year round activities and entertainment.”
Surprisingly, the U.S. Census of 2010 reveals that there are only 10,520 people residing in the city — about the same number that reside in the area surrounding Pagosa Springs! Incredible. Not the place anyone would envision locating a premiere, live, national music center.
Like many small towns, Branson is small and remote, located in the Ozarks with unique natural attractions, a history of an economy driven by tomato canning, lumber and manufactured wood products and other commodities. The founders actually envisioned an industrial center, which would generate trainloads of products for the outside world — until the Missouri Pacific canceled its service in 1960.
How did Branson begin its transformation into a major tourist attraction? At first, quite by chance. In the early 1900s, “The Shepherd of the Hills,” a book written by Harold Bell Wright about this area of the Ozarks, was published and became a nationwide bestseller. Overnight, tourists from across the country began coming to Branson and tourism was born.
In the ’80s, a new vision for their future emerged — the go-to destination for live music. The townsfolk of Branson never even considered that they didn’t have a chance of becoming a big center for live music in their remote hard-to-get-to area. In fact, they didn’t care; they just kept promoting their little town.
Beginning with one person’s vision and passion, a town was transformed, jobs were created and now, 7.9 million people visit Branson each year and it boasts more theater seats than Broadway.
Now, contrast that with Pagosa. Our economy is depressed. Our people are depressed, too. We have gone through a lumber and mining boom followed by a real estate and construction boom, but now what? So many in our small town wring their hands in desperation and talk and talk and talk about our insurmountable problems, all while our young folks are leaving town because of the lack of opportunities. We come up with lots of excuses and we believe them. Everyone can agree on our problems, but we lack the energy and cohesiveness to think of and pursue possible solutions.
What did the people of Branson see that we don’t? Opportunity. And they believed in themselves.
We certainly don’t want to become Branson, but we need to envision what we do want to become that is unique to our community and we need to believe we can achieve it.