We live in a tourism-driven community. Each year, millions upon millions of visitors come to our corner of the Ozarks to find fun, relaxation, a little adventure, and much beauty that God has richly bestowed upon us. Many folks will try to tell you that it is the theater industry in Branson that drives our tourism numbers, and there would be some merit to that argument. However, tourism was the basis for the Branson economy long before the first theaters opened in town. The Baldknobbers, Presleys, Foggy River Boys, and the Plummers came along not to generate tourism, but to take advantage of the tourism that already existed. That is not intended as a knock on our theater business, and certainly over the years since those first shows opened, many, many people have been incited to come to Branson to enjoy the live entertainment. I am just pointing out that tourism was Branson’s primary economic driver long before the first theaters opened and will likely continue to be even if (or when) all the shows close.
It was the beauty of the Ozarks that first brought visitors to Branson. The rugged hills and the beautiful streams. Even with all the development – the houses, the malls, the theme parks, the theaters, and all the roads – you can still find glimpses of the landscape described by Harold Belle Wright in his highly popular novel of 1907, The Shepherd of the Hills. Readers of Wright’s book were so enthralled with his description of the beauty of the Ozarks and the character of her people that they came into this area by the thousands beginning 110 years ago and have not stopped yet. This type of tourism, along with the eminently successful float fishing with guide Jim Owen and others, almost cost Branson another huge tourism attraction. When the federal government was doling out dollars for hydroelectric dam projects, one of the key selection criteria was economic need. The tourism industry in early 20th century Branson, as meager as it was in that day, was sufficient reason to delay construction of a dam across the White River at Table Rock at least twice – once in the 1920s, and again in the latter half of the 1940s. Final approval was finally granted in the 1950s, and construction of Table Rock Dam (about a mile upstream from the original Table Rock location) began in 1954. Construction was completed in 1958, interrupted for a time by the floods of 1957 that sent the White River over the nearly completed structure, and power production commenced in 1959.
You get a sense of the enormity of the dam when you first drive up to it from Branson-proper on Highway 165, its massive concrete form looming above you. It is even more impressive to stand at the structure’s base, and gaze upward along its 252-foot height, or the reverse view from the top down to the tailwater below. It really is breathtaking to consider such a monumental structure was actually built by man! The dam contains 1,230,000 cubic yards of concrete, 3,320,000 cubic yards of embankment (taken primarily from Baird Mountain by way of a giant, two-mile long conveyor belt), spans a total of 6,423 feet across, and cost $65,420,000 to complete. In 2005, an auxiliary spillway was added at the cost of another $65,000,000. We who live near the dam and drive across it almost daily can get rather ho-hum about it. But really, it is a spectacular achievement!
Something made me wonder the other day how long a dam like Table Rock is built to last? Seems everything we buy, everything we build today is designed to wear out faster and faster than they used to. How long until Table Rock Dam wears out? The best answer, it turns out, is no one really knows. The best answer is “indefinitely”. I found numbers that spanned from a minimum of 1,000 years, or maybe 2,000 years, or up to as long as 10,000 years. But, if man is still around, and he desires to retain this massive structure that holds back the waters of the White River (or whatever name it may be called 100 centuries from now), they could always choose to spend, maybe another $65,000,000 or so, and refurbish the dam to last another 1,000 years or more. So, indefinitely.
The truth is, as wondrous as something like Table Rock Dam is as a monument to man’s achievement, it is still built by man. Like man, that dam is temporal. It will never last eternity. Man’s whole history on this earth, from the creation of Adam until God’s final, fiery destruction of this world to lead to a new Jerusalem, will be considered a mere blip in time, no matter how long it is until the earth’s ending comes. Any time that can be measured, no matter its length, cannot even be compared to timeless eternity.
Sometime, take part of a pleasant Fall afternoon to stroll the 1,602-foot length of the concrete section of the dam. Look down on one side, more than 250 feet below to the tailwaters of Lake Taneycomo. Gaze across the other side, over the 42,000 – 53,000 surface acres of blue water held back by the very structure upon which you are standing. Consider the years, the hundreds of men, the massive machinery it took to build such a magnificent monument. And then consider that it will one day lay in rubble, like many of the pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians as long as 5,000 years ago have now gone back to the desert. Gone. It humbles me. It makes me realize how small I am.
There is only one thing in existence that is truly permanent, and that is our Lord God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) Our God who invented time for us knows no time, or rather, knows all time all the time. He alone is forever and ever. He extends to us, the “whosoever will” of the King James version of Revelation 22:17, to “take the water of life without cost” and join Him in his house forever. God’s house. A permanent house.