Tonto Basin: Spirits Remain High As Lake Level Falls

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Every community has suffered the consequences of Arizona's on-going drought, but residents of Tonto Basin need only to look out their windows and glimpse the shrinking waters of Roosevelt Lake to see the impact.

The people of Tonto Basin and its smaller communities such as Punkin Center have relied on the lake for their economic survival, but low lake levels have kept boaters and fishermen away, and valuable tourism dollars as well.

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The community of Tonto Basin pulled together to build a new chamber of commerce building that is nearly completed. The ample decking allows visitors to enjoy the views of the nearby Sierra Ancha mountains and Roosevelt Lake when the water level is up.

Norma Cline, manager of the Butcher Hook, a business complex that includes a restaurant, bar, general store, gas station, bait shop and the largest employer in Tonto Basin, said they are "holding their own."

"We've had to tighten our belts," Cline said. "For the first time in 15 years, we have had to cut back our hours."

The Butcher Hook provides one-stop shopping and is open 365 days a year. Cline said they are adding a hardware store, as well.

"It has been a challenge," Cline said, "But it's given us an opportunity to hone in on our skills."

Low lake levels have forced some local business people to change their lines of business.

Barbara Gallimore and Gary Blanchard started Punkin Center Marine, a boat repair and supply store, more than 13 years ago.

"The drought really hit us hard so we got out of the boat business and into the trailer business," Gallimore said.

When Gallimore and Blanchard sell the remainder of their marine inventory, they will only be selling utility trailers.

John Dryer has been a full-time resident of Tonto Basin since 1970 and even has a road named after him.

Dryer has been one of the people instrumental in the construction of the 8,500-square-foot building designated for the new medical center.

"Punkin Center Charities with the help of the Mogollon Health Alliance and PRMC, has our medical center about 50-percent completed," Dryer said.

The Earl Stephens Medical/Community Center will have doctor and dental offices, a pharmacy, a community hall, and even a veterinarian.

Tonto Basin also is in the process of completing its new chamber of commerce building. The building, more than 1,000 square feet, has a nearly equal amount of decking so that visitors can enjoy a view of the mountains and Roosevelt Lake.

"I'm really proud of our new chamber building," said Carol Duke, owner of the Tonto Basin Inn. "Everything was donated by our community. It was entirely a community effort."

While things have been tough with the lake at 14 percent of capacity, Mitch Vuksanovich, owner of several local businesses, including the Butcher Hook, remains optimistic.

"I've lived here a long time and I've seen many ups and downs," Vuksanovich said.

"In 1940, Roosevelt Lake was almost dry and the next year it was over the spillways," he said. "I think we are fine."

Residents and business people in the area remain concerned as they have seen many people pull their boats from the marina, but pictures of fisherman holding 71-pound catfish still adorn the walls of the bait shop and a Saturday at the Butcher Hook bar remains a lively, and well-attended event.

Even low lake levels don't distract from what many people consider a striking landscape and the people of this small community further enhance its charm.

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