I enjoy being a 57-year-old kid too much to change. So it should be no surprise that I rode “Fire in the Hole” at Silver Dollar City five times that same day. My wife should probably grow up too. She was with me on every ride.

I was recently asked, “When are you going to grow up and act your age.”

I answered, “Never!”

I enjoy being a 57-year-old kid too much to change. So it should be no surprise that I rode “Fire in the Hole” at Silver Dollar City five times that same day. My wife should probably grow up too. She was with me on every ride.

Apparently we were not the only over-aged kids in the crowd. We were joined by numerous other “Baby Boomers” that returned for another trip on the popular ride.

In fact, the park was full of people from all walks of life and different age groups to celebrate Silver Dollar City’s 50th birthday. On Friday night everyone was treated to a remarkable performance by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, a rock band that was extremely popular in the 1970s with hits “Chicken Train,” “Jackie Blue” and “If You Want to Get to Heaven.”  The amphitheater was packed.

On Saturday, the same theater at Silver Dollar City (SDC) was filled with onlookers and celebrities to perform or simply watch the show. Even the White House sent a message of congratulations as did other agencies and celebrities. Today this popular park that helped build the Branson legend is packed with rides and other attractions, but it was not always the case.

“We visited the park back in 1962 and there wasn’t much to see,” said my mother, LaDonne Kieser. “They had a train and several shops, and of course Marvel Cave, but that was it. It is sure different today, much bigger.”

Marble Cave, originally discovered by the Osage Indians in 1500, was originally named because many believed the limestone walls were marble. In the 1880s, a group of Civil War veterans formed a mining company to mine resources from the cave, most notably, nitrogen-rich bat guano, but no marble.

This venture soon failed and in 1894 William Henry Lynch bought the cave sight unseen and soon opened it for underground tours. A few years later, Harold Bell Wright, author of “The Shepherd of the Hills,” toured the cave and mentioned it in later writings. The Herschend family from Chicago purchased the park from Lynch’s daughters in 1946 and opened it as a cave tour.

Eventually they started bringing in skilled craftsmen and women from the region and later they built an 1880s mining town that opened in 1960. Silver dollars were given as change to customers in those days to promote the city’s name. The first year, SDC drew 125,000 people, a positive sign of things to come. Attendance drew larger through the years, until Hollywood discovered SDC, taking attendance up to a new level.

In 1969, five episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies were filmed at Silver Dollar City, bringing national attention to the park. SDC’s main blacksmith, Shad Heller, was on the show with others. I remember watching the episodes, never dreaming I would spend a lot of time at what was then a hillbilly theme park.

Several friends and I first visited the park in 1973. We enjoyed it to the point of purchasing season tickets to return for all the festivals, even in the 1970s during gas rationing. Since I have watched the park expand and grow in rides, shows and other attractions. I recall six rides in 1973. Today there are 30.

Perhaps more importantly, instead of the hillbilly theme that the entire town of Branson has seemed to abandon, SDC has taken on more of a world celebration atmosphere with occasional international acts featured at World Fest in April and May. Of course they still have their Wild West Days and other familiar events like the Bluegrass and BBQ Festival, National Kids Fest, the Southern Gospel Picnic and the National Harvest Festival.

SDC’s Old Time Christmas feature’s over 2 million lights that highlight buildings and trees throughout the city. The five-story special effects Christmas tree that has been featured in newspapers all over the world and television shows has over 1 million lights flashing in synchronization to seasonal music. Clearly the Herschend family never does anything in a small way.

I am proud to say that I have watched the place grow up over the past 30 some years. So happy birthday, Silver Dollar City. I will likely not be around for your 100th birthday, but there is no doubt that you will give a lot of other grown-ups who have not grown up the chance to be kids again.

I can’t see one thing wrong with that, especially in this world where everyone has to grow up faster than ever before.