Camping Opportunities Still Remain



Tinder dry conditions that forced Forest Service officials to shut down campgrounds and forests have put a serious crimp in Rim country camping opportunities.

Eighteen of 70 campgrounds in the area were closed by the ban and campfires are not allowed throughout the Tonto National Forest.

According to Debbie Aschbrenner, owner of the Tall Pines Market in Christopher Creek, the forest closures have caused a sharp decline in her business.

"We're taking a beating here," she said.

Recent rains, however, have generated a glimmer of hope that Forest Service officials might soon lift the ban and open campgrounds to the public.

If that happens, it'll be Katie-bar-the-door as heat-weary desert-dwellers flock to the Rim country looking for a cool summer respite. That rush for campgrounds, if the forests are opened, will continue until Labor Day the traditional end of the summer camping season.

Those planning a trip to one of the many camp and picnic grounds can make reservations through a computerized system at National Reservation Center (1-800-280-CAMP). Forest Service officials recommend making reservations. Anyone who occupies a reserved site without a reservation can be cited and fined.

However, not all campgrounds in the forest are on the reservation system. Some operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

A complete list of all campgrounds and their reservation requirements, fees and facilities is available at the Payson Ranger District on Highway 260 in Payson.

In the Forest Service pamphlets, readers will notice camping facilities are referred to as "units" and classified as either developed, semi-developed or back country.

Developed campgrounds have water faucets, garbage pickup, toilets, picnic tables and fire grates. Camping at these Sites is usually limited to 14 days.

Semi-developed campgrounds usually have toilets and fire-rings but no designated campsites, and no fees are charged.

Back-country camping areas, also called dispersed camping, have no facilities.

If there's no rain

If Murphy's Law prevails and campgrounds are not opened soon, there are some that can be occupied during the closures. They include ones at Christopher Creek, Tonto Creek and Woods Canyon Lake.

But when visiting those sites, a strict set of guidelines are in force including the ban on campfires. The use of gas and propane camp stoves is permissible.

Also, users of those sites are not allowed to leave the campgrounds while the restrictions are in force.

Some of the most popular camping sites among those that remain open are those at the 52-acre Woods Canyon Lake.

For a day use only, Rocky Point picnic ground is a good choice. It's within easy walking distance of the lake and has ample tables, fire grills, fire pits and rest rooms. The fee to use the grounds is $2 per car each day.

For those opting for a longer stay, Aspen campground, about 1/4 mile from the lake, features 119 campgrounds on the reservation system and 17 sites that are first-come, first served. The fee is $10 per night.

Another good camping choice is Spillway campground which has 26 sites on the reservation system. It's within a short walk of the lake and has rest rooms, drinking water and tables. Its fee is $12 per day.

In addition to several nice campsites, Woods Canyon Lake also has a store and marina where visitors can get fishing licenses and supplies. Also, the store has boats, motors and row boats for rent.

Until rain drenches the entire Rim country, camping choices are limited. But there are options available that allow users to bask in the beauty of the picturesque high country.

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