Shepherd of the Hills will close after Wednesday

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BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) - After 57 years, the owner of Shepherd of the Hills says its last day in business is Wednesday.

Fire destroys a cabin in the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor drama near Branson. (news archives)

Owner Sarena Naugher says the entire business, including the outdoor drama, which hadn't begun its 2017 performances, Inspiration Tower, zip line, and campground, will not be able to continue because a bank declined to renew its operating loan and foreclosed on the property. The entire complex will close for good at the end of Wednesday (May 10, 2017).

Naugher said the bank's decision was a surprise to her, because she thought the loan was going to be renewed again.

The story began in 1907 with the book "Shepherd of the Hills" written by Harold Bell Wright. Dr. Bruce Trimble fell in love with the book. In 1946 he opened Old Matt's Barn. He later opened a wooden tower on Inspiration Point.

The amphitheater became a reality in 1957. Gary Snadon, a teacher and football coach at Branson High School, bought the business in 1985. Snadon successfully ran that business and other tourism-related businesses in Branson. He died on Oct. 31, 2013, and his family, including Naugher, his daughter, continued running it.

The owners announced just days before Snadon's death that the business would close. Supporters rallied, however, and made it possible for the park to remain open and for the cast and crew to do three years of encore shows.

The property includes 160 acres. During the summer tourism season, the business employed 200 people. In its heyday, Naugher said, 230,000 people attended performances of the outdoor drama each year. In the past two years, attendance has been between 30,000 and 40,000 people -- the lowest numbers in its history. She said tourists loved the show and often returned but it had trouble attracting people who live in this area, who Naugher believes took it for granted.

Naugher says a couple of companies are interested in buying the property. One wants the land for another use; the other is interested in continuing the show. She didn't know on Monday morning how close either group is to obtaining financing and making an offer. She declined to reveal her family's asking price.

"Behalf of the entire cast and crew - thank you for 57 incredible years. It was an amazing ride," Naugher said.