A summer youth recreation program that experienced mixed success wraps up July 16 in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
"It hasn't been as well attended as it has been in past years," Payson Parks and Recreation coordinator Teddy Pettet said.
At mid-summer, program coordinators Jill Dendy, Carol Hayes, Darrin Grover and Jennifer Plumb estimated an average of 30-plus youngsters were attending each day.
In the mid-1990s, recreation supervisors Bruce Haught and Chuck Hardt would oversee more than 60 youngsters each day.
One of the reasons attendance declined was due to the Willow Fire.
"We got tossed out of (the RCMS gym) a couple of times by the Red Cross who were using it for evacuations," Pettet said.
Pettet estimates the program was shut down at least three days for the evacuees.
Another reason Pettet suspects the program might have struggled this summer is that it is still trying to recover some of the recreation equipment and games it lost during the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire. The RCMS gym was turned into an evacuation center for White Mountains evacuees fleeing the blaze. With the gym overflowing with evacuees, media and volunteers, some equipment was damaged, destroyed or lost.
Although Pettet has resigned from parks and recreation department, he said the plan will be to try and replace equipment and upgrade the program in future summers.
"I think they want to put on some scheduled events and do things like that," he said.
The length of the program also had to be shortened because the schools have gone to a modified calender with classes beginning Thursday, July 29.
In past years, the program stayed open almost two-and-a-half months because school didn't begin until mid-August.
One of the highlights of the summer was a June 22 appearance by the Phoenix Suns Gorilla. His appearance in Payson was sponsored by the Arizona Department of Health Services Anti-Tobacco Program. It featured an interactive assembly in which the Gorilla and Phoenix Fire Captain Jay Arthur encouraged the youngsters to "Inhale Life, Be Tobacco Free."