Tonto Basin

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Three years after Roosevelt Lake nearly dried up, water levels are at 83-percent capacity. Due to runoff from the series of storms in January and February, the water is lapping the walls of the dam at 1.32 million acre feet and will probably fill to capacity by spring.

Boaters will have access to launch sites that have been unavailable in drought conditions. New miniature habitats evolving below the surface of the water will create an environment that is excellent for fishing, especially bass and crappie.

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In March 2004, Roosevelt Lake was at 31-percent capacity. With all of the rainfall this year, the lake has reached 83-percent capacity in March 2005, and is expected to be at 100 percent by spring.

This is good news for Valley residents enjoying leisure activities on the lake. The rising water has environmental effects too. The endangered Southwest willow flycatcher has probably made homes where the lake declined and now nature has taken them away.

The growing community of Tonto Basin is located about 5 miles off the north end or Tonto arm of Roosevelt Lake.

Tonto Basin was formed by Tonto Creek with the Mazatzal mountains to the north and the Greenback mountains to the south. The 2,350-foot elevation makes for hot summers but mild, temperate winters.

The basin boasts about 2,000 permanent residents with homes on either side of Tonto Creek. Farms and ranches dot the green flood plain. The growth rate of new residents is estimated between 100 and 200 people per year. In wintertime, the population escalates to around 5,000 when visitors and part-time residents hook their RVs up at one of the many parks on either side of Highway 188.

Roosevelt Lake gives the community a great aquifer even when the creekbed is dry, but dry hasn't been this past years' problem as heavy rains have closed the low-water crossing numerous times.

While some residents might be satisfied with a concrete slab or culvert crossing, another environmental assessment that might give the 600 residents who live on the far side of the creek, a bridge, sits in Congress waiting for approval.

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After safely crossing the flooded Tonto Creek near Punkin Center, 8-year-old Ashley Ford and Reina Socarras, 11, share a hug before attending class at the Tonto Basin School. Residents stranded on the east side of Tonto Creek when it floods now have a new way to clear the creek -- a 1967 Kaiser 5-ton 6-by-6. The vehicle was donated to the George Allen Ewing family by the Mazatzal Casino and Tonto Apache Tribe.

"We have a good fire department and excellent paramedic staff that serves both sides of the creek with both paid and volunteer staff," longtime resident John Dryer said.

The fire department was able to add an American LaFrance fire truck to its inventory last year and is hoping for a grant for a new station in 2005. It also obtained a refurbished defibrillator said Vicky Foltz an EMT, firefighter and administrative assistant.

The chamber of commerce was built two years ago on a grant from the forest service. The volunteer staff keeps it open to more than 500 visitors a year Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The second Tuesday of the month they have a hamburger fry to support the chamber. They want to add a storage building on the premises.

"We are moving slowly towards being an official visitor's center through the state," chamber president Jerry Miles said. "We are about halfway there and expect to be there in a year."

There is a two to three month waiting list for new post office box numbers. In the meantime, residents get their mail through general delivery.

Punkin Center Charities formed in the late 1990s to build the school. The school has about 50 to 60 students and graduates a few seniors each year; the teacher student ratio is 12-to-1.

The Tonto Basin Library grew when a wall was torn down to make more room for books and the patrons who read them. They received some of the DVDs and CDs as the result of a multi-state settlement with music distributors.

The Tonto Basin library is part of the Gila County library district for day-to-day operational funding. According to library manager Fran Cain, when the building needs to be repaired, expanded or extra patron services are wanted, the library must seek support from the community. Donations, golf tournaments and other fund raisers help extend the library's book, CD and DVD collections.

Among the new businesses are Nancy Shelton's Flowers in the Basin that opened last September, and Dave Knaur is at the helm of Silver Ridge Custom Homes. Brian Jennings is working on a 92-space RV park called Picture Mountain RV which should open this spring.

Medical facilities for Tonto Basin are run out of the Tonto Basin Dental Building located at mile post 260 1/2 on Highway 188. A doctor is available for appointments on Fridays.

There are no city limits around the Tonto Basin community. Its residents are spread out over about 12 square miles surrounded by hiking, riding and hunting trails that run through the Sonoran desert. With all the amenities required for a brief stay or an actual move, Tonto Basin has become a popular community for retirees or people who want to make a home for their families in a rural setting.

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