I recently visited Payson after almost 34 years. While a student at the American Graduate School in International Management in Phoenix, I made many trips to Payson to enjoy the extraordinary Mazatzal Wilderness and wonderful small town atmosphere.
The Beeline Highway was one of the most extraordinarily beautiful highways I had ever traveled anywhere. Sure there was one sticky hairpin turn with a steep drop off that really focused your attention, but far more importantly, the single lane road brought you close to the scenery. It was truly a moving and magical experience, an expedition into the awe-inspiring remote wilderness of the Old West. The little community of Payson was friendly and charming and seemed a natural destination after the two-hour ride through such breathtaking scenery. Although there were a few lucky retirees, it seemed most everyone was somehow connected to the forest, either through the sawmill or ranching.
Today the Beeline looks just like another Interstate Highway. It is very sad that the charm, romance and thrill of the past is gone with the wind, or should I say gone with the new highway and excessive development. The casino and the big procession of large lighted billboards south of town make me think I'm coming into Orlando or Dallas.
Payson today looks like any other rapidly growing and sprawling little town with the usual complement of ubiquitous fast foods, banal shopping centers, modern sterile service stations and traffic congestion. I even noted a tattoo parlor and kids "hanging out" on the street corner on a Saturday night just like a big city. When I asked one chap about 60 years of age behind the counter of a new gas station and convenience store what the country was like west of town, he replied "I dunno I've never been west of the golf course." So much for the appreciation of the area's natural beauty. Fortunately the Mazatzals and the valley west of town haven't changed. It was a great relief to experience this beautiful wilderness area once again although the back roads, through the pinon/juniper thickets, were littered with beer bottles and cans.
I have read with disappointment and dismay the comments by a number of community leaders that the new Beeline will bring more growth, more visitors, and an "economic boom." The people of Payson must ask themselves, "How much more growth do you want?" What about another 5,000 people, or another 25,000 or 50,000, or how about 150,000? Do you want to continually stress your infrastructure? Eventually the new Beeline will be clogged with traffic. The wonderful qualities and ambience that made Payson so special are fast disappearing.
The old saying of the past, "Come watch us grow," must be countered with "At what price?"
The town leaders should have long ago stopped the four laning of the Beeline and instituted draconian architectural controls so that virtually every building in town, commercial and residential, would be built in an Old West style of wood and stone. What are you gaining and what are you losing with all this emphasis on growth? You must ask yourselves, are you building a town with a vintage to improve with age?
I'm 56 years of age and was born and raised in Miami when it was a paradise. Today it is massively larger but most assuredly not better. It seems we Americans have an emphasis on quantity not quality, born purely of myopic greed. We know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Remember, once it's gone, it's gone for good. Most people consider themselves conservationists. But as conservationists, what are we conserving the country for more Wal-Marts?