Tonto Basin

Quiet commerce meets lakeside living

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The average passer-through might have a hard time believing it, but it's true. There is, indeed, a Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce.

Not only that, it's been around for about 11 years.

Not only that, it may be operating out of its very own building by the summer of 2003.

Even so, don't get the idea that the people of this tiny community located 30 miles south of Payson on State Route 188, at the north end of Roosevelt Lake are in any headlong rush toward the future.

"My greatest hope for the Tonto Basin is not progress," said Billie June Cline, who in May will end her four-year reign as the president of the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce. "I only hope we can keep the spirit of this community just the way it is.

"You wouldn't believe how many benefits we hold for our neighbors and friends who need some sort of assistance," Cline said. "The people here all pitch in and help each other. This community has heart, and no matter where it goes or how it changes, I hope we never lose that."

If that quality is ever lost, it's not likely to happen soon. Asked how many new businesses opened in Tonto Basin-Punkin Center over the past year, Cline had to rack her brain.

"Oh, yes," she finally answered. "We had a Big Daddy's Pizza open up this year. And the fellow who is about to become the new chamber president is an independent insurance salesman."

There you have the speed of progress in Tonto Basin. But that's not to say things aren't changing at their own pace.

Once exclusively the tight-knit home of ranchers and their families, the basin is now known as a source for supplies supporting the thousands of visitors who come from the Valley not just to take advantage of the recreational opportunities surrounding Roosevelt Lake, but for the hunting, hiking and riding trails that wind through the area's high-desert terrain.

The community has grown in size to include its own school district and full-time fire department with two stations; a Kiwanis Club, complete with thrift store; its own dentist, Dr. Phil Fausett; and the Earl Stephens Medical Clinic, which is expected to one day move from its home in Fausett's clinic into a new 8,500-square-foot building next door to its current location.

Tonto Basin also has seven RV/mobile home parks, and the newest Picture Mountain RV Park, boasting around 200 hookup spaces just opened for business a mile north of the Butcher Hook on the east side of State Route 188.

Despite all this forward motion, what we have here is a community so informal that no one can say with precision how many people live in Tonto Basin year-round.

"I'd say there are about 1,600," Cline said. "That's my best guess, since there are about 800 mailboxes in town."

Others say the total number is closer to 2,000, and that it swells to more than 4,000 in the winter months.

No matter the actual figure, the populus has easy access to just about any business or service they could ever need.

There are several bars and restaurants, two beauty salons, several contractors, a post office, a mini-storage complex, four real estate offices, a gas station, sites for auto parts and repair as well as boat storage and repair, a consignment store, and two motels with a combined total of 32 rooms.

Before heading south out of town, the Butcher Hook is one of the last stops people make on the way to Roosevelt Lake. From bait to beverages, the Butcher Hook carries all of the items you'll need for a day on the lake. And the Butcher Hook bar and restaurant serves all the residents you'll need to catch up on the local gossip.

Despite that list, you're not likely to corner a single Tonto Basin resident who came to the area for the surprising variety of its businesses including Jerry Miles, a Valley transplant who moved his family here in November of 2000, and who on May 1 will become the new president of the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce.

"My family and I fell in love not only with the beauty of the area, but its people, its Western heritage, and its ancient history," Miles said. "Coming here is like going back in time to 'Where the West Begins,' as our sign says.

"In a half-hour, we could be in Payson, and in another half-hour, we could be skiing if we wanted to. This is just the perfect centralized location, the perfect place. We have a lot to offer. We just need to get our story out."

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