Tonto Forest Now Open

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To the relief of dozens of beleaguered business owners throughout the Rim country, the Tonto National Forest reopened to the public Thursday morning.

The Tonto forest had been shut down for a month due to extreme fire danger.

"That's not just good news, that's great news," said Debbie Aschbrenner, owner of Tall Pines Market in Christopher Creek.

The days of closure, Aschbrenner said, wreaked havoc on local business owners who rely on tourist trade for their livelihood.

"With the forests closed down, no one wanted to come up here we were taking a beating," she said.

Kohl's Ranch general manager Chuck Lane agreed. "When you're in the tourism business and your main attraction is shut down, it's tough," he said.

The reopening of the forests coincides with the beginning of the Independence Day celebration which along with Memorial and Labor days draws the largest crowds of the summer season to the Rim country.

Tonto National Forest officials predict that with the forests open, waves of heat-weary desert dwellers will flock north seeking relief in the cool pines.

Officials in nearby Coconino National Forest are going along with those projections.

"There will be a lot of numbers up here ... we're expecting that," Coconino-Kaibab Information Officer Joe Luttman said.

The Coconino National Forest lifted most of its closures Tuesday.

With the reopening, the best advice to high country visitors this weekend is to arrive early to have any chance of finding a vacant campground, Forest Service officials said.

Motels also might be difficult to come by the next few days. Kohl's Ranch Lodge is fully booked through Independence Day, the general manager said.

A spokesman at the Inn of Payson said that motel was filling fast.

For anglers, the reopening of the forests means they will have access to two lakes Knoll and Bear Canyon that were in closure areas. Arizona Game and Fish officials stocked both lakes late this week.

AG&F will do bonus stockings prior to the Fourth at highly popular Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes.

Game and Fish officer Joe Janish said the forest openings and trout stockings are great news for anglers heading to the high country.

A day early

According to Gary Roberts at the Payson Ranger District, the Tonto National Forest originally was to open at 8 a.m. Friday but that date was moved up a day to coincide with the reopening of the adjacent Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The Kaibab National Forest, northwest of Flagstaff, also opened at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Now that all of the state's forests are open except for a few fragile areas that remain endangered revelers have more than 5 million acres of holiday playground to choose from.

Officials were able to open the national forests because of the early start of the summer monsoon season.

In Pine, where extreme fire restrictions had been in place, the ban on charcoal grills, lawn mowers and chain saws was lifted after Thursday afternoon's downpour that drenched northern Gila County. However, fire department officials stress that open fires require a permit from the fire chief.

Fire officials around the state also remind folks that fireworks are illegal in Arizona.

Restrictions remain

Although the forests and campgrounds are now open, campfire, smoking and chain saw restrictions remain in effect in the higher elevations of the Tonto National Forest. Campfires and smoking are allowed in developed campgrounds only.

Developed campgrounds have fire rings. Campfires are not permitted in dispersed camping areas where there are no fire rings.

There are no fire restrictions in the desert portions of the forest, including Roosevelt and the other Salt/Verde river chain of lakes.

Call (877) 864-6985 for more information or visit the Arizona Interagency Fire Prevention and Education Web site at www.azfireinfo.com.

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