Housing Market Is Booming In Tonto Basin

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Standing just west of the Tonto Basin Inn at the highest point in the area -- site where local dentist Philip Fausett is building a home --ongtime resident John Dryer scanned the plateaus below.

"The residential growth here is just amazing. Homes are popping up all over," he said. "What's even more amazing is a lot of these people came only to stay for a few months and they never left."

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Nearly as far as the eye can see, new homes are sprouting up all over Tonto Basin. This once tiny little village is becoming more popular with folks looking to escape the searing heat of the Valley, or the frigid winters of northern Gila County.

Dryer attributes some of the growth to a climate that is warm and mild about nine months of the year.

"When it gets hot for three months, a lot of these people go to the White Mountains or Colorado and then return to Tonto when it cools off," he said.

Dryer estimates the area has more than 2,000 full-time residents, but that amount swells to 5,000 in the cooler fall and winter months.

Another draw, he said, "is the great lifestyle a small community offers. It's a slower pace."

Also contributing to the growth, Dryer said, is a 700-acre land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service that has freed 300 acres on the east side of Tonto Creek and 400 acres on the west side for development.

Although traffic congestion in the area has become a problem, Dryer anticipates the snafu will be eliminated when the Arizona Department of Transportation completes a road-widening project that extends from the Roosevelt Bridge to Globe.

"It'll be about 35 miles of new road," Dryer said.

Another road improvement project is under way at the intersection of Dryer Drive and the Earl Stephens Medical/Community Center site.

"That's about a one-mile project," Dryer said.

Probably the biggest Tonto Basin attraction is Roosevelt Lake. The lake has been dubbed "the state's favorite water playground."

It draws throngs of outdoor enthusiasts eager for a turn at waterskiing, boating, swimming, jet skiing and windsurfing.

Roosevelt also is a hot spot for anglers who turn out in droves to try their luck at catching crappie, channel and flathead catfish and largemouth and smallmouth bass.

According to Dryer, some of the residents of the Tonto Basin area are anglers who once went to the lake as visitors and took a liking to the area.

"They end up staying here," Dryer said.

At high water, the lake has more than 19,000 surface acres with 112 miles of shoreline measuring 25 miles long and two miles wide. The lake is 349 feet deep at the dam and contains up to 543 billion gallons of water when full.

According to the rangers at the Tonto Basin Ranger District, the lake is now about 30 percent full. Due to the state's drought, the lake level had plunged to about 20 percent but its capacity has remained steady since January.

Visitors to the Tonto Basin area will find camping facilities are plentiful near the lake. Among the most popular developed campgrounds are Indian Point, Cholla, Windy Hill, Grapevine Group and School House. Most of those feature showers, trash bins, playgrounds and drinking water. Most of the year, the campgrounds are staffed by volunteer hosts.

For the RV set, fully equipped parks can be found in Tonto Basin. Among them is the Picture Mountain RV Park that opened in 2003 with 90 spaces and room for an additional 90.

The community also features gas stations, restaurants, boat storage and dump stations. Among local residents, Butcher Hook is the most popular stop at the north end of the lake. It offers fuel, a general store, bar and restaurant.

The privately owned Roosevelt Lake Resort has lodging, food, boat storage, fuel facilities and a marina.

A 10,000-square-foot visitor's center is located 1 1/2 miles east of the dam. The staff there will gladly provide hints for fishing, boating, hiking, mountain biking, emergency services and Forest Service roads. A patio provides visitors stunning views of the lake.

Anglers hoping for a few helpful fishing tips from a pro should stop by The Tackle Box, located directly across the street from the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce on Highway 188. Owner Clifford Pirch, a professional tournament angler and the Payson Roundup fishing columnist, can provide lake and fishing information.

A source of pride among those living in the area is the 12,500-foot school that was built in 1980 by the people of Tonto Basin and Gila County. It was built for $125,000 with no debt service or bonds. Currently, 75 students in grades K-8 attend. High school students are bused to Payson.

In 2000 when the state school facilities board offered school districts funding for improvements, a $625,000 remodeling project was undertaken at the Tonto school. The project included building a cafeteria, a new gym floor, rest rooms, a computer lab, septic system, a special education classroom and lighting upgrades.

Also at the school, a volunteer effort a few years ago led to the construction of a lighted ball field. Among those who contributed were Walter Surrett, APS, Kiwanis Club of Tonto Basin, Marine Corps League, VFW and Tonto Apaches.

It was volunteer efforts like that, Dryer said, that make Tonto Basin a special place in which to live and work.

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