Locals Saved Tonto Bridge

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It never did make sense to close the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

In a state dependent on tourism, you just don't balance the budget by taking away reasons for tourists to want to come here. But as the saga unfolded, all involved parties seemed to become less and less willing to find a solution.

The parks board appeared hellbent to show the governor and legislature just how painfully they could execute the budget cuts imposed on them. The governor's office and the legislature were just as intractable.

But through it all, a group of local leaders kept cool and calmly reasoned with both sides to find a solution that would keep the bridge open.

Too often, it seems, reason doesn't prevail. But this time it did. Meeting in special session, the legislature passed a bill Thursday that moves money around so the seven closed parks can reopen, and the four slated for closure including the bridge can remain open.

The fight was led by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Ware, who seemed to know exactly when to appear outraged, when to call for reinforcements, and when to slap a politician or parks board member on the back.

He was assisted by Rep. Jake Flake, who sponsored the bill, and Scott Flake, the director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, whose reasoned presentation to the parks board set the conciliatory, pro-active tone that eventually carried the day.

And then there were the residents of the Rim country, who, for the second time this summer, responded magnificently when faced with a crisis.

As Ware observed, "Literally thousands signed petitions and wrote letters and came out in support of the bridge. This wasn't about 'the bridge,' it was about 'our bridge.'

Tonto Natural Bridge manager John Boeck, a man of few words, put it quite simply.

"The community was the big difference," Boeck said. "It was what we needed."

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