Happily Bypassed: Two Years Later

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When a stretch of Highway 260 that once went through Christopher Creek was moved to bypass the community, some business owners worried. But two years later, while some have felt a revenue loss from the missing drive-by customers, others feel the move changed Christopher Creek for the better.

"I was worried about it, but in retrospect it has been the best thing for the community," said Debbie Aschbrenner, the owner of Tall Pines market in the small community. "I am very happy with it."

And Aschbrenner's opinion echoes the feeling of several business owners who enjoy the new peace and tranquility the town lacked when a busy highway ran through it.

The absence of traffic is the result of the Arizona Department of Transportation completing an exit for Christopher Creek, about one-fourth of a mile from the new roadway that now bypasses the community.

The bypass was created a few years ago when ADOT completed a new 5.3-mile stretch of Highway 260 around Christopher Creek between mileposts 272 and 277. It was part of a project to widen 21 miles of Highway 260 to a four-lane divided highway between Star Valley and Colcord Road.

Aschbrenner said the biggest concern was the closure of the forest while ADOT worked on the construction bypass. She said her concerns were eliminated once the forest was reopened.

Traffic, before the exit was constructed, was a major problem, and she said some residents back then were afraid to cross the highway.

Now, there is almost no traffic since the town is off the main highway.

Aschbrenner said the quietness of the town has convinced people to move to the community on a permanent basis.

"It's been awesome. It's just great," she said.

Tall Pines Market is about a half mile from what is now Highway 260, and Aschbrenner said she has not seen a huge drop-off in her business.

"It is not like they have to exit off and go far to find (my store)," she said.

What helped was the Christopher Creek Loop sign that ADOT put on the highway. She said the residents of the community were allowed to vote on the signage.

"I think the signage works. We do not have all that truck traffic," Aschbrenner said.

The trade off

John Matux, owner of Creekside Steak House, said his business decreased 14 percent in the first year of the loop being constructed.

"We don't get the drive-bys we used to get," he said. "The trade off is now we don't get the big trucks."

He said the community is much quieter and more peaceful, but added it is a huge trade-off when talking about loss of revenue.

"You can only put out so much money if it is not coming in," Matux said.

The signage directing people to Christopher Creek has helped to a certain extent, he said, adding that before the signs were in place many were unaware of the small community and its businesses.

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Two years ago, this stretch of highway through Christopher Creek was busy with with traffic. Then Highway 260 was moved about half a mile out of town to accommodate an expansion to four lanes. Since then, the once busy highway has been quiet and the residents of Christopher Creek couldn't be happier.

"I even passed it a few times myself," he said. "It will never be as good as it was. If it wasn't for the people in Payson, we could not survive."

Wayne Capson, manager of The Village at Christopher Creek, said he has not been impacted at all, and is turning away business.

"It's suppose to be peaceful out here," he said, adding that businesses are what owners and managers make of them.

Rebecca Ashby and her husband, Glenn, who have owned the Christopher Creek Lodge for 55 years, like the new quietness of the community now.

"We are absolutely delighted that it's nice and quiet," she said. "We are happy to be bypassed."

She said, if anything, business has increased since Christopher Creek was moved off the main highway.

Kevin Mystrom, owner of the Landmark Restaurant and Saloon, said there has been a small decrease in his business on weekdays, not weekends.

One suggestion

Some businesses, including the Landmark, think ADOT should place signs on the highway so travelers will know how close the businesses are to Highway 260. He said travelers unfamiliar with the area may think Christopher Creek is 20 miles from the highway.

The restaurant is for sale, and Mystrom said that it has nothing to do with the loop. The restaurant will not be closing, just changing ownership.

He said it is easier to get out of the Landmark parking lot because there is almost no traffic. Children, he said, can now play without having to be fearful of being hit by a vehicle.

Mikey Marazza, owner of Wooden Nickel Cabins, said she has no problem with the loop.

"It's perfect for me," she said. "It's kind of nice that you can go across the road without waiting."

Traffic on the highway, especially during the holidays before the loop, she said, was tremendous.

Nancy Pierce, who owns the Grey Hackle Lodge with her husband, Donald, said, "It's better for us.

"It is not so noisy. People used to complain." She said there used to be bumper-to-bumper traffic on holidays.

"It's nice and quiet. This is how the mountains should be," Pierce said.

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

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