My idea of a fun day typically involves some kind of outdoor activity- usually a hike or a water activity like swimming or kayaking. Visiting a museum and seeing the local wildlife is icing on the proverbial cake. On our last day in Branson, we visited a couple spots where one could do just that.
While in the Ozarks, we stayed at a site that overlooked Lake Taneycomo. As mentioned in the previous post, Lake Taneycomo was once a part of the White River. It became a lake with the building of the hydroelectric Powersite Dam in 1913. In 1959, the completion of Table Rock Dam, about 22 miles upstream in Branson, formed the southern boundary of Lake Taneycomo. The building of Table Rock Dam also created the massive, dragon-shaped Table Rock Lake, snaking through southwestern Missouri to northern Arkansas.
Prior to the building of flood control systems, the White River would often overflow its banks, causing devastating floods. The building of the dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is estimated to have saved over $1 billion in potential losses over the life of the projects, and in inestimable savings in life and livelihoods for those living in the basin. In addition to flood control, the Table Rock Dam is a major source of hydroelectric generation. The Table Rock Lake holds an estimated 3462000 acre-feet of water, over two-thirds of which is used in hydroelectric power generation. According to the displays at the Dewey Short Visitor Center, named after the congressman who had strongly petitioned for the building of the dam, Table Rock is one of 24 dams within the Southwestern Power Administration, which serves electric customers in the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In addition to providing the power needed for electricity generation, Table Rock provides endless opportunity for outdoor recreation. Table Rock Lake boasts over 800 miles of shoreline across both Missouri and Arkansas. Table Rock State Park has many options for fun both in and out of the water. Boating, paddleboarding, fishing, and kayaking are just some of the options one has to enjoy Table Rock in the water. There are also a number of trails for hiking and mountain biking for those who are more inclined to stay on terra firma. Unfortunately for us, after the 75-degree temps the days before, the temperatures fell and snow was falling. Our visit to Table Rock Dam was confined to the Visitor Center and a drive over the dam itself. That said, the ranger on duty was great. Ranger Ryan was very knowledgeable, and not just about Table Rock. Turns out he had been out in California for a while, and so he was familiar with some of the same spots we are. He even gave us an Army Corps Table Rock Dam Junior Ranger Badge.
As wonderful as the building of the dam sounds from a recreational and flood-control standpoint, it did indeed change the ecology of the area as dams so often do. From 1913-1958, prior to the building of Table Rock Dam, Lake Taneycomo had been a warm water lake. Upon the completion of Table Rock, the lake was then fed by waters that were significantly cooler, especially when water is being released from Table Rock Lake upstream for power generation. As a result, Lake Taneycomo became an ideal environment for cold-water rainbow and brown trout.
Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery
After spending some time at the Dewey Short Visitor Center, we drove across the dam and about a half-mile down to the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. There, rainbow and brown trout are carefully raised for stocking Lake Taneycomo as well as a few other trout management areas in Missouri. It is run by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and along with the hatchery where fish are reared from egg to release, there is a visitor center where folks can learn about the history of trout-raising as well as the conservation efforts in the state of Missouri. I was surprised to learn that the original trout that were brought to Missouri had originally come from the pristine alpine waters of the Sierra Nevadas in California. There were also some really neat amphibians and reptiles to check out, such as Tiger and Lily, a two-headed snake.
After watching an eight-minute video on how the trout are spawned and raised, we dropped a few quarters in the vending machines to purchase handfuls of fish food. Though the temperatures outside were literally freezing (the snow was falling rapidly at that point in the day), we took the opportunity to feed the fishies.
When it is not literally 30 degrees Fahrenheit out, the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery is a great place for bird watching. There were a number of birds braving the frigid cold in the trees outside the conservation center; I can imagine how many more there would be when the temperatures are warmer. While I would have loved to hike the trails surrounding the hatchery and Table Rock Dam, the day spent exploring these areas where ecology meets a human interface was still really fun.
In keeping with the theme, we finished off the day with a visit to the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield. This location is the ‘grandaddy of all outdoor stores,’ and is the site of the first Bass Pro Shop. I had not been to a Bass Pro prior to visiting this part of Missouri, and I was just wowed. In addition to many square feet of retail space, there were museums dedicated to Bass Pro and to ‘racing for conservation.’ Also attached to the store is the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium. We did not have time to visit that museum, but it looks pretty cool. We stuck with wandering the free exhibits and checking out the vast array of apparel and camping gear, along with the Bass Pro Outlet next door.
All too soon it was time to make our way back to the Springfield-Branson National Airport to catch our delayed flight to Atlanta and then our delayed flight to Los Angeles. The week was a sweet time spent in the Ozarks with all the fun it has to offer. Hopefully one day we’ll make our way back to that neck of the woods, to catch a happy trail and be met in the quiet.
Table rock dam and Lake. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. (2021, December 8). Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/table-rock-dam-and-lake-6610/
Drupal.symposiarch. (2010, December 10). Table rock state park. Missouri State Parks. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://mostateparks.com/park/table-rock-state-park
Lake Taneycomo in Branson, MO. Branson.com | The Official Branson Website. (2017, April 10). Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.branson.com/learn-old/lake-taneycomo/