Monsoon moisture has reduced the risk of fires, so the Rim country forests are once again open for recreation.
The only part of the forest that has not been reopened is the area scarred by the Willow Fire. It will remain closed for the foreseeable future, even to Forest Service personnel like Gloria Alliger, information receptionist at the Payson Ranger Station of the Tonto National Forest.
An avid hiker, Alliger has been on most of the trails in the Rim country, but was never able to make it into the Mazatzal Wilderness, and now she doesn't know if that will ever be possible.
Alliger's hiking experiences come in handy with her job at the front desk of the Payson Ranger Station. She is one of the primary sources of information for people who come to the station looking for answers.
"Probably the most frequently asked question is where can they camp," Alliger said.
With the reduction in the risk of forest fires, people can camp anywhere now. She said the only major restriction is the requirement to camp at least 200 feet from a creek or stream and the roadway.
"If it is a first-time camper, I try to direct them to one of our hosted campgrounds, like Ponderosa," Alliger said. "It makes it easier for them if they need help getting their fire started or pitching their tent."
Another frequently asked question is about the forest's hiking trails.
"Probably the most popular are the Highline, Fossil Springs and Fossil Creek Road," she said.
Alliger said she recently was on the Fossil Springs trail and enjoyed it. "It's a real nice recreation area. Horton Creek trail in the fall is really pretty if we get enough rain for the trees."
She said there are lots of fishing questions too, especially about getting licenses -- they're at Wal-Mart and the Tall Pines Market in Christopher Creek.
She usually directs people to Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes for fishing on the Rim.
Alliger sends people looking for a good, all-terrain vehicle trail to Forest Road 433, near Blue Ribbon Auto Sales in Star Valley. "It goes all the way to the Control Road.
"To ride on the Control Road, they have to be licensed and insured," Alliger added.
The Payson Ranger Station's front office has a library of information in addition to the knowledge Alliger shares. There are a variety of free publications she makes sure people take with them: "Recreation Sites in Southwestern National Forests and Grasslands," "Getting Around on National Forest Roads," "Wilderness ... Things You Need to Know," "On Your Own in Southwestern Mountains," "Welcome ... to the Tonto National Forest," and "Arizona All-Terrain Vehicle Laws."
"I also recommend "Streamside Trails" -- one of the books we sell ($9)," Alliger said. "It has all the trails, the Highline, Pleasant Valley, Fossil Creek, the entire Rim."
Through Labor Day, the Payson Ranger Station is open Saturdays, as well as during the week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The ranger station is at 1009 E. Highway 260 in Payson. For more information, call (928) 474-7900.