Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Branson Boat Goes Bananas Riverboat Promoters in a Country-Music Mecca Make a Big Splash with a Fish-Friendly Launch

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Branson Boat Goes Bananas Riverboat Promoters in a Country-Music Mecca Make a Big Splash with a Fish-Friendly Launch

Article excerpt

L. J. DELCAMBRE'S anticipation rivaled that of a man about to be married. The huge showboat he and his crew of welders had been building all summer at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. was about to take its first swim.

Hundreds of spectators were on hand, and some helped peel the two tons of bananas it would take to ensure a smooth ride from land to lake. The fruit lubricated three slanted rails, onto which the boat was lowered. Bulldozers stood at attention in the hot sun, ready to give it a push if gravity didn't take over when the holding straps were severed.

But the bananas did the trick. With Mr. Delcambre on board, the boat slid into the water in just a few seconds longer than it takes to say "I do." Entertainer Kenny Rogers, co-sponsor of the project, was caught up in a phone conversation and nearly missed it. A crowd of onlooking boaters erupted into celebratory cheers, honks, and whistles.

Almost a football-field long, the Showboat Branson Belle, which will offer tours of Table Rock Lake, sit-down meals, and entertainment, is billed as the largest excursion vessel on a landlocked waterway.

The bananas - an alternative to oil, and apparently good fish food - weren't just a gimmick. Turn-of-the-last-century in style, this "riverboat" incorporates current environmental thinking in order to be lake-friendly. Clean-burning fuel made out of soybeans will power the huge red paddle wheels, the insulated engines won't create a din, and no waste water will empty into the lake.

Silver Dollar City Inc., the developer, has been in the Ozarks for decades and has "never walked away from ... protecting not only our heritage but our environment," says Lisa Rau, a company spokeswoman. The company, well aware of Branson's emphasis on family-style, not Las Vegas, entertainment, studiously avoided gambling in its proposal and welcomed community input. …

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