Parents' Minds Race 17 Miles To Prom Location

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Parents usually wait up the night of prom with their head full of worries. This year, parents feel they have been given extra reason for concern.

Rather than choosing an in-town location, Junior Prom organizers are hosting the dance 17 miles east of Payson at the historic R Bar C Ranch. As parents' minds race down those 17 miles, a lot can go wrong.

But Payson High School student body president Patrick Walker and prom sponsors don't harbor the same concerns.

"We've taken a lot of precautions," Walker said. "There are free shuttles and we've held it there and at Kohl's Ranch before with no problems."

The prom begins at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, and continues until midnight at the ranch, located about 17 miles east of Payson on Highway 260.

Walker said he drove the road Tuesday afternoon and found it improved over past years. Where portions of it were once a two-lane highway, there are now four lanes.

"It's four-lane most of the way, there is good visibility and some of our students are very familiar with it because they drive it every day to and from school," he said. "Our (school) buses travel it every day."

Traci Chovanec, a parent of a student who will be attending the prom, is concerned about the location.

"By locating this event so far out of town ... with hazards of elk and increased traffic due to the time of year, we are setting our kids up for harm," she said.

Department of Pubic Safety Sgt. John Whetten agrees that elk can be a problem, but believes the highway is improved and mostly safe.

"It's four-lane most of the way except for one small stretch," he said. "But students should be mindful of elk, especially near Little Green Valley."

PHS student council advisers Anna Van Zile and Doug Eckhardt said the Junior Class, which sponsors the prom, is concerned with the well being of the students attending, but many safety precautions have been taken to ensure that it is a safe and secure school event.

The students have asked local law enforcement to increase patrols. They have asked emergency vehicles to be stationed on the prom site, and school announcements have been filled with requests for increased diligence. Shuttles will also be offered to keep students safe.

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Payson Police Department Commander Don Engler

Whetten said he has increased DPS patrols for Saturday night on SR 260 from one officer to three.

"We'll add one of our (Payson-area) officers and bring another up from the south," he said.

The Payson Police Department will also increase their manpower on Highway 260.

"We will step up our patrols and coordinate our efforts with DPS," PPD Commander Don Engler said.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office will have a presence at the ranch during prom and along the highway.

Both Engler and Whetten also said they could not recall any serious accidents or problems when previous proms were held at R C Bar or nearby Kohl's Ranch.

For prom-goers interested in taking the shuttles, they will begin transporting at 8 p.m. from the Payson High School parking lot and continue until midnight.

At the prom, teachers, administrators, some parents and school resource officer Les Barr will supervise the activities.

Although the prom site has stirred some controversy in the Rim Country, Van Zile and Eckhardt contend the prom committee put a good deal of thought into where to best hold the traditional event.

Eckhardt said the committee visited several sites and concluded the R Bar C was the best based on the size of the facility, cost and availability during the week prior for prom set up.

By the time the prom begins, the junior class will have spent five evenings, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., preparing the ranch for the festivities.

Most of those evenings, more than 20 juniors, along with adult sponsors, worked to prepare R Bar C for the prom.

As student body president, Walker believes he understands the work that goes into finding a suitable location for a prom and then preparing it for the festive evening.

"There are not a lot of places in Payson (available) for a prom," he said. "But the juniors found a good one; will have it ready and the (prom-goers) now must prove they are responsible.

"I understand concerns but feel everything will be OK."

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