I’m probably going to be talking about Branson all next week. There’s too much to say for just one or two blog posts. I do enjoy Branson but I have one complaint about it. The main tourist area is not pedestrian friendly at all. In fact, you might say it’s downright pedestrian hateful.
Highway 76, a.k.a. Country Boulevard, is “the strip” in Branson Missouri. It grew to what it is today without any kind of plan. Thirty years ago when we first visited the area Branson was just the little town on the way to Silver Dollar City. There were a couple of theaters, a scattered handful of souvenir shops and restaurants, and maybe a motel or two. Those did well so other people came along and built their theaters, stores, restaurants and motels. More people came and so more attractions came and so on and now it’s solid tourist attractions for several miles along both sides of 76.
Highway 76, or Country Blvd., is three lanes wide, the center lane being a turn lane. Each business has its own little parking lot. Some have sidewalks, many do not. To see the attractions of Branson you have to drive from one to the next. Drive along the strip, see something you want to see, turn in, hoping you don’t miss the parking lot, then when you’re done with that place get in your car and drive to the next one. There are no public parking lots where you can park for several hours so you can walk from place to place and even if there were, there are few sidewalks and no way to safely get from one side of the street to the other. There are only two traffic lights along the strip and no cross-walks. There is not even so much as a sign warning drivers to look out for pedestrians.
There are areas in Branson where you can walk. Old downtown Branson is typical of traditional downtowns and there are some stores that look interesting. I haven’t spent much time there. It also has the same drawback as most other traditional downtown areas: limited parking. Branson also has a huge open air mall near downtown, called The Landing. It’s lovely if you just want to walk for the sake of walking or if you mainly want to shop for clothes. Almost all of the stores and restaurants in The Landing are the same ones you see at indoor malls across the country – nothing unique or touristy. There are two outlet centers off Country Blvd but, like at The Landing, the stores there are 75 percent or more fashion clothing stores and shoe stores.
But, though they have some good points, having these places where you can walk does not make up for the difficulty of getting around in the main tourist area. They could and should build continuous sidewalks along both sides of Country Blvd. and elevated sidewalks at least every mile, preferably every half mile. With the huge revenue this small town (population 6950 according to City-Data.com) gets from tourism, I find it extremely difficult to believe that they cannot afford to make such improvements. But from their point of view there’s no reason to. People keep coming in spite of the inconveniences and, I have to admit, that includes me too.