It was 1973, and Arizona Gov. Jack Williams was riding in an old GI transport truck. His road? Under the raging waters of Tonto Creek in Tonto Basin.
Residents had finally gotten the governor to agree to make a trip to Tonto Basin to witness for himself the danger Tonto Creek represented for residents. School children crossed to attend classes at the small school, which, at the time, was conducted in the little red schoolhouse.
Gov. Williams was happy to make the trip. There were, after all, television crews catching his crossing from every angle. Rushing waters, the governor, anxious residents of Tonto Basin -- all combined to make a great story for the evening newscast.
The statement made by Gov. Williams after he made a successful round trip across the creekhat tore at my nerves was simply one praising residents' "pioneer spirit." End of story.
Since that time, at least four people have lost their lives trying to cross Tonto Creek during its flood stage. In many of the years that have gone by, I was one of those residents that practically begged U.S. Forest Service and Gila County officials to come up with a bridge -- not a low-water crossing -- to ensure a safe crossing.
I realize four lives in 31 years is not a lot of people. But to their families, they were not unimportant.
I also realize the politics of the situation. If a safer bridge crossing is built, it would only attract more and more people to the forest on the other side of the river. They come, anyway, when the river is dry. So, that is not a valid argument.
What should have been done 30 years ago should be done now. Nobody, no matter how foolish, should have to die attempting to cross Tonto Creek.
Carolyn Dryer, former 26-year resident of Tonto Basin; former Payson Roundup editor