Branson buys old house for educational purposes

Friday, September 24, 2010 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

BRANSON — Branson's Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area is no longer just a chance to step into nature. It will soon be a chance to step into the past.

The city of Branson made a deal Sept. 2 to purchase a home and 7.4 acres of land located in the middle of the wilderness area. The home belonged to Lyle Owen, who taught economics at the University of Tulsa but otherwise pretty much kept to himself, said Alderman Rick Davis, who knew the man for several years before Owen died in 2005.

"Parents are always looking for an educational experience for their children when they are on vacation," Davis said. "This gives us a chance to meet that need."

Davis thinks that someday the home, which is overgrown and in disrepair, can serve as a demonstration of how people once lived in the Ozarks. Not only can residents and tourists walk the trails through the forest and enjoy views of Lake Taneycomo, which lies about 300 feet below, but they could also see how a family lived in a time gone by.

At the house, Davis pushes through shrubs and bramble to point out how Owen recycled water. A drainpipe from the house feeds through a filter, then fills a 5,000-gallon cistern a few feet away. Davis said there are good lessons here about sustainability.

"You were self-sufficient, so by definition you were sustainable," Davis said. "It shows how people can get along with less."

The purchase of the home will complete the vision for the area.

The city purchased the 130-acre park portion from Owen in 1998. It contains two hiking trails. One trail meanders through the woods and features a high view of the lake and the College of the Ozarks on the other side. The other trail takes more durable hikers down (then back up) 340 stone steps Owen built in 1937. The stairs lead down to a small cave and a waterfall. Owen chose not to sell the home and continued to live there.

"The land has been of interest to the city since I've been here," said City Administrator Dean Kruithof, who became city administrator in 2007.

He said the property, known as the Owen enclave, has been described as "a doughnut hole" in the park.

The house has held up pretty well. A pair of large oak trees fell on it two years ago but caused little if any damage. The main problem has been vandalism.

The city established a planning committee to map out the future of the park. It has undergone other changes recently, with the addition of a former RV park that has been converted into a picnic area and allowed the city to make the park's entrance closer to Missouri 76. However, the city still needs to create a new parking lot and set up kiosks to clearly show the location of the trails.

Davis said the work will have to be done with volunteers.

"If you're looking for a reason to get outdoors, we'll have something for you to do," he said.

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