After 54 seasons in Branson, the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre will end its outdoor drama with a final performance on Oct. 19.
In a statement released Wednesday, the owners of the business cited rising insurance and production costs, declining crowds, and costs associated with the new federal health care law.
Officials with Shepherd of the Hills did not return calls seeking comment on the closure and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on their business.
“It came as a shock for sure,” said Lynn Berry, director of communications for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We all thought they would always be one of those (Branson) touchstones.”
Started in 1960, the Shepherd of the Hills play was one of the early attractions on which Branson was built. At its peak during the 1970s and 1980s, it drew more than 2,000 guests each night, and most shows were sold out, the company said in its statement.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we make this difficult announcement,” Gary and Pat Snadon, owners of the park, said in a statement. “We have had an incredible run.”
The outdoor drama is based on the book of the same name, published in 1907 and written by Harold Bell Wright. His visit to the Branson area became the basis for the novel, which is said to have become the first book in the United States to sell more than 1 million copies.
Re-enactments of the story began as early as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until Aug. 6, 1960, that the Old Mill Theatre began regular performances.
Gary Snadon, who played the role of Wash Gibbs in the drama for three seasons, bought the theater and homestead in 1985.
The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead will be preserved and maintained as a historical landmark, the company said, and tours of Old Matt’s Cabin, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will still be available during the summer months.
Inspiration Tower and the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider will be open year-round. During November and December, the Trail of Lights Drive-Thru and the Christmas on the Trail Chuckwagon Dinner Show will still operate normally.