Tonto Basin's Population Grows As More People Come In Search Of Beauty And Isolation

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Tonto Basin is growing. A new grocery store is in the works. Gila Community College recently started offering courses in the town. The town has expanded to include its own school district and fire district.

And new construction speaks to the increasing number of people who are searching for a combination of the year-round warmth of the Valley and the small town atmosphere of Rim Country.

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The Butcher Hook, the location where most of the locals visit to buy groceries and other items is almost always crowded.

Kimberly Byrne, who works at the area's Butcher Hook convenience store and lives in Tonto Basin, said the community is "beginning to bust all over."

"Homes are going up all the time," she said. "It's growing, growing and growing."

Byrne said there are many reasons why she prefers the small community.

"I wanted to get out of Phoenix," she said. "We like fishing. We like and enjoy the people."

Many choose Tonto Basin for the solitude.

For others, the draw is the outdoor recreation created by nearby Roosevelt Lake.

As the town prospers and small businesses open up, many residents do not want too much growth.

David Taylor, a retired pilot, moved to Tonto Basin with his wife in 2001.

He said he had a home in Young that he sold before coming to Tonto Basin, which is about 40 miles southeast from Payson on Route 188.

"We like the isolation," he said. "It's a very quiet place here."

Since he is retired he is not bothered by not having any nearby amenities, he said.

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The new grocery store that is being built in Tonto Basin is preparing to open.

He said the Butcher Hook suits most of his needs, though he conceded he does pay about double of what he would be charged in Payson.

His voter registration card reads "None" when asking for the city or town he resides in.

Gila County Sheriff's Office provides law enforcement for the town.

Madra Bernard of the Tonto Basin Chamber of Commerce, said the community has grown dramatically in recent years.

She said the population is 850, and that increases to more than 2,000 in the winter.

The community has a restaurant, a small store, three bars, a barbershop, a school and a couple churches.

Carol Gower, who works at the Butcher Hook store, said the business is always busy, adding there are a lot of winter visitors who stay in Tonto Basin because of the warmer weather.

She said it also is nice that everyone in the community knows everyone.

"We do not like the stoplights and the traffic," she said.

Gower said she sees no downside in not being close to a community where there are amenities she needs.

She said she is not that far from Payson and is also close enough to Phoenix where she can go to stock up on any necessities and wants.

Dennis Pirch, owner of the Tackle Box in Tonto Basin, commutes to work every day from Payson.

"Tonto Basin has really grown over the last three years," he said. "The biggest shot in the arm was watering the lake."

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com.

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