A popular local saying has it that the third time you visit the Ozarks, you bring your furniture. West Plains, Nestled in the “Heart of the Ozarks”, is where you’ll find breathtaking scenery to soothe your spirit and plenty of warm, gracious people who make it difficult to leave. When it comes to the best the Ozarks has to offer, West Plains has it all…and we’d like to share it with you. But be careful…we do become habit-forming.
The Great Outdoors
The Mark Twain National Forest, named for Missouri’s favorite son, provides much of the scenic beauty in the Ozarks Heritage Region. But it’s not just another pretty place. You’ll discover a wealth of outdoor recreational activities within its borders. With more than 40 campgrounds and picnic sites, 350 miles of floatable streams, 63,000 wilderness acres, and 125 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what you want to explore first. Whether you hunt, trout fish, raft, kayak, explore springs, or tour the many gristmills; you’re only a stone’s through away from a relaxing West Plains hotel or eatery.
Pick up the pace at one of the finest dirt track facilities in the nation. The West Plains Motor Speedway’s premier event is the “Show Me 100”, where late model drivers from across the country compete to start the Memorial Day weekend race. The season begins mid-March and runs through August with events for crowds as large as 17,000.
Other recreational opportunities in West Plains include a new Aquatic Park with a collegiate-sized swimming pool, leisure pool, basketball courts and sunbathing area and pavilion. Numerous city parks provide areas for picnics, play and exercise as well as tennis courts and batting cages. There’s even a Winter Sports Complex.
The Robert Neathery Skate Park provides in-line and skateboard enthusiasts a challenging layout designed especially for their sport. The West Plains Soccer Park currently under construction will not only provide the youth of our community a quality facility for their venue, but will also afford West Plains the opportunity to host large scale soccer tournaments.
Keeping West Plains citizens among the healthiest in the state, The Georgia White Walking trail is a 2.4 mile blacktopped trail conveniently located in the heart of the city. The city recently earned the title “Missouri City In the Best Shape” in 2003 and “2nd Missouri City In the Best Shape” in 2004, during the Governor’s “Shape Up Missouri” Challenge. Another popular walking trail is the nature trail located at the new Missouri Conservation Department in West Plains. A state of the art facility, the Conservation Department is a wonderful place to gather information on Missouri’s Flowers, Birds, Fish and Wildlife. Or is golfing more your exercising style? How about testing your skills at either of West Plains’ two challenging eighteen-hole golf courses, The West Plains Municipal Course or the West Plains Country Club.
The Yellow House Community Arts Center is a volunteer organization devoted to promoting the arts and education in the Ozarks. A meeting place where artists and audiences find common ground, the center features intimate musical performances and highlights local artists in the gallery. Classes, workshops, several area special events are also hosted.
One look at the West Plains Civic Center (WPCC) in downtown West Plains, and you’ll see why the building is already a landmark for quality entertainment, education, culture and athletic events. The West Plains Civic Center is an impressive piece of architecture with over 30,000 square feet of exhibit space. To meet the fitness and recreational needs of those visiting the Center, they also offer an indoor walking area, collegiate-size indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna and fitness room. The arena is also home of the Southwest Missouri State University Grizzly Basketball and Lady Grizzly Volleyball teams. The Civic Center theater easily seats 450 and plays host to many talented artists and musicians.
The heritage of the Ozarks is officially celebrated each year in West Plains during the third weekend in June. The Old Time Music Ozark Heritage Festival celebrates old time music and the unique culture of the Ozark Highlands. Different from its rural counterparts, bluegrass and country, old time music has its distinctive sound and makes its own important contribution to the complex palette of what we call indigenous American music. Musicians, artisans, and storytellers from throughout the state come to the West Plains festival in enthusiastic support of creating a place to listen, watch, interact and honor the old time traditions of our southern Ozarks communities. Demonstrating the spectrum of art forms from dance fiddling, local jig steps, and gospel singing, to the songs, narratives and ballads that tell the story of a place, to the occupational traditions of blacksmithing, log skidding, spinning and basket making, artists show how these arts are embedded in the experience of our daily lives and how they fit the functional and symbolic needs of our community. The festival was established and has been supported by the West Plains Council on the Arts through funding by the Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Folk Arts Program.
The Avenue Theatre, a neo-art deco movie house built in 1950, operated until 1986. It was then donated to Arts on the Avenue, Inc., a non-profit arts organization formed to convert the facility into a community theater. It hosts a variety of programs including a children’s program during the summer.
Historical Points Of Interest
The “Courthouse Square” Historical District in Downtown West Plains was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in July of 2003. This designation recognizes the importance of the Courthouse Square and Washington Avenue in the history of West Plain.
The National Park Service noted this designation was in part due to the unusual layout of the West Plains Courthouse Square. It is a “Lancaster Plan”, named for an 18th century model first used in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Under this unusual plan, streets enter the square in the middle of each side and not in the corners as they do in most public squares. A large majority of the buildings in our district were built in the 40 years following the arrival of the railroad in 1885. They reflect the town’s commercial and governmental importance in the early Ozarks.
The historical West Plains Opera House on the Downtown Courthouse Square was built in 1887 by Thomas Johnston as gathering place, hosting traveling musical and theatrical troupes, political rallies, dances, wedding receptions and basketball games. A recent renovation project, championed by West Plains citizen Russ Cochran, has the Opera House lovingly restored to the splendor of its earlier days. It is once again the center of many events within the community of West Plains. Many other buildings in the downtown area have also undergone renovation thanks to Russ and another West Plains citizen Toney Aid. Because of their commitment and vision the downtown area is alive and growing.
The Harlin Museum, at 505 Worcester, is a repository for the area’s past and present. A portion of the museum was once the home of Jim Harlin, West Plains mayor for 32 years. It has been preserved, along with its period furniture, as a monument to the era in which he lived. The museum’s modern wing has two floors, with the upper devoted to touring art exhibitions and the lower dedicated to historical memorabilia, including military memorabilia for WWI and II, turn of the century farm implements, an authentic Ozark still confiscated some years ago by the Howell County Sheriff, and a perfectly preserved and completely intact Springfield wagon. The oldest items on display are Native American artifacts dating from 5,000 B.C. The most peculiar West Plains articles preserved at the facility are the memorabilia surrounding five of the area’s most celebrated progeny -country music starts Porter Wagoner and Jan Howard, and baseball greats Preacher Roe, Bill Virdon and Tedd Gullic.
Shopping and Dining
Shoppers and diners find a wealth of temptations in West Plains. The Historical Downtown District offers a unique mix of retail shops, including antique and gift stores, bookstores, interior decorating shops and a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. West Plains also boasts a number of retail districts to help you find treasures throughout the city. The Porter Wagoner Blvd., Broadway and Main Street merchants, as well those in The Harlin Ridge Plaza, The Imperial, Parkway and Southern Hills Centers, offer a variety of commerce choices for you. For the antique buff, your choices are infinite, ranging from quaint shops to flea markets and malls.
Dining is always a pleasure at our specialty cafes, steak houses, and ethnic restaurants. From down-home cooking to fine dining and everything in between, you’re sure to find it all in West Plains.