On the surface, the closing of the Tonto National Forest due to record-breaking fire-hazard conditions may seem to pose a Rim country recreation conundrum something akin to Disneyland staying open and selling tickets but shutting down all the rides.
But truth be known, plenty of family-pleasing summertime attractions are still up and running and some can actually be found under the pines.
Into the woods
As of this writing, developed, fee campgrounds remain open along the Chain of Lakes in the low country (Roosevelt, Apache, Saguaro, Canyon, Bartlett, and Horseshoe lakes), and you can still go tubing on the Salt and Verde rivers.
Roosevelt Lake has more than 500 campsites open; in the high country, there are five campgrounds open east of Payson along Highway 260, for a forest total of around 950 campsites at 20 different areas. And that's not counting any local, county, state or private campgrounds which may be open.
The Rim Lakes recreation area near the top of the Mogollon Rim on Highway 260 is also expected to remain open for fishing, hiking and relaxing in the cool pines.
The newly opened Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout, right on the banks of Tonto Creek, allows would-be anglers to try fishing without a license and to pay only for what they catch. Poles and bait are provided, and they'll even clean your fish. For more information, call (928) 478-0002.
If favorite campgrounds, trails, or areas aren't open, U.S. Forest Service recreation specialists advise checking out cabin rentals in the Payson-Pine-Strawberry area, which also boasts a number of bed-and-breakfast lodges for a close-to-home escape.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park home of the world's largest natural travertine bridge is expected to remain open all summer, although no fires are likely to be allowed for the duration. Here, you can take advantage of short hiking trails (including the newest, named after Payson living legend Anna Mae Deming), picnicking, nature-watching and a cool creek.
Before you make any plans involving pine trees, however, call the Payson Ranger District at (928) 474-7900 for the latest closures, restrictions and updates.
At Rumsey Park on McLane Road, you'll find picnic ramadas, a playground, tennis courts, swimming, baseball parks, a skate park, soccer fields, Taylor Pool, (928) 474-2774, the state's newest off-leash dog park ... and, of course, the brand-new Payson Public Library, (928) 474-9260, for summertime thrills of a cerebral sort.
Green Valley Park at the west end of Main Street not only boasts a trio of trout-stocked lakes, but free pole rentals at the Parks and Recreation office, (928) 474-5242 ext. 7. Children 13 and under may fish without a license; others require an Urban Fishing License. The park also offers picnic ramadas, playground, walking trails, ducks, and lots of grassy knolls.
Here you'll also find the Rim Country Museum, (928) 474-3483 and a plethora of exhibits which offer glimpses into the respective histories of the Mogollon Rim, logging, mining, ranching, novelist Zane Grey, and much more. The museum also features the oldest western Forest Service Ranger station, a Forest Service tower and a historic cabin.
Right down Main Street is the brand-new Museum of Rim Country Archeology (928) 468-1128, a teaching and professional research facility which opened June 1 in the old Payson Public Library. In this milieu, you can soak up this area's ancient culture via a vast array of archeological finds. It's open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for students.
While you're on our town's most historic street, why not take the self-guided walking tour. Guidebooks describing the history of the boulevard and some of its homes are available at the Chamber of Commerce and both museums.
Or forget about history, head to the west end of Green Valley Park lake, and shoot nine or 18 holes at the Payson Golf Course (928) 474-2273, where the amenities include a driving range, carts, pro shop, refreshments and, if you desire, lessons. Green fees are extremely reasonable and players may walk the course.
Of course, you can also get the heck outta town by taking a day trip, or a part-of-a-day trip, to check out what's available in Gila County's rural communities. For starters, the Pine-Strawberry Museum displays historic artifacts from the area, and you can also obtain information on a local walking tour. Nearby is the Strawberry Schoolhouse, Arizona's oldest standing schoolhouse and a registered historic site featuring demonstrations of pioneer life.
And there's almost always one organized entertainment event or another going on somewhere in the Rim country. The easiest way to check up on those opportunities is by calling the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at (928) 474-4515 in Payson, or at (928) 476-3547 in Pine/Strawberry.
Or entertain your family the old-fashioned way: Get out there and search for surprises. Even with its main attraction shuttered up, the entertainment possibilities are endless in your home town.