Irene McCann stood serenely at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce visitor's center, ready for anything.
A pleasant-looking, somewhat distracted, out-of-town visitor spotted Irene standing there with an informative and welcoming expression her face and trundled over to her.
"How many snakes do you have in Rim Country?" asked the woman, a faintly worried expression flitting across her face.
Irene paused to consider the question. She could not recall the topic rising once in the introductory training the chamber gives the roughly 35 volunteers that provide the town's public face for visitors and the behind-the-scenes labor for a host of events.
"Well, we haven't completed the snake census yet," deadpanned Irene, as she rounded out her weekly four-hour shift.
The woman nodded and wandered off, apparently satisfied with the answer -- despite Irene's refusal to quantify her anxieties.
Just another day helping visitors get a handle on a trip to Rim Country.
The chamber's volunteers play a vital role in making sure visitors want to come back -- and make a success of everything from the Payson Rodeo to the Beeline Cruise In -- which crowds Main Street with eye-catching classic cars.
The work of those volunteers will likely be even more crucial in the months and years ahead as the town works on polishing its image as "a mountain town with a western heritage," an image it hopes will draw visitors and conventions and a mounting number of festivals.
"Our volunteers love the variety of people they meet," said Chamber Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Benson. She noted that last month alone, Payson recorded visitors from at least 77 different countries -- plus the usual parade of Valley residents pondering a move or a second home.
"We encourage the volunteers to have conversations -- it's one of the most exciting parts of the job. The volunteers like using their life skills and they love to disburse their knowledge of the Rim Country."
The chamber estimates that volunteers donated more than 5,000 hours in the past year, valued at more than $90,000.
The volunteers also make recommendations for shopping, entertainment and restaurants, in response to the frequent questions from people new in town. If possible, the volunteers are urge to recommend one of the chamber's 415 member businesses.
Beyond the vital task of greeting town visitors, the chamber's team of volunteers provides essential support for each of the organization's major annual events.
Those events include:
- April 19: Business Show-case: Rim Country businesses can set up booths with the help of volunteers to showcase their services and products at the Mazatzal Casino -- with a theme this year of Treasures of the Rim Country.
- April 26: Beeline Cruise In: Classic car buffs will line Main Street with their lovingly restored, vintage cars, with volunteers on hand to hand out information, direct parking and take care of other details.
- May 16, 17: Payson Rodeo: Some 6,000 people usually show up for the world's oldest, continually staged rodeo, which depends heavily on volunteers to sell tickets, man booths and provide services for the people who attend.
- November 14, 15, 16: Rim Country Quilt Roundup: Once again, chamber volunteers will play the leading role in organizing the event and setting up booths, as well as answering questions and taking care of a host of tasks.
And between those events, the volunteers patiently answer questions.
But does it seem like Irene gets all the good ones?
One day not so long ago, another visitor walked in, took one look at Irene, and decided she must have insight into the great questions -- the ones that keep the philosophers up at night.
"At what altitude," asked the inquiring visitor, "do the deer turn into elk?"
Welcome to Rim Country, Ma'am.