Paddle Up A River Of Possibility

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Quickly: Name three streams alongside which you can camp in Arizona.

All right -- you said the East Verde, Tonto Creek, Fossil Creek. But that's cheating. You live right here.

Now name three more.

Pause. Wait for it.

Hmm. White River. Black River. Colorado. Oak Creek. Verde. San Pedro. Wet Beaver. A short and precious list -- but not a long list.

Now. Wait. Eliminate all the streams that aren't within 90 minutes of the fifth largest city in the country.

Now you've got East Verde, Tonto Creek and Fossil Creek. All right -- Oak Creek, after you get past the traffic jam. Oh, yeah -- Verde River. That's it.

So now ask yourself: What economic foundation should Rim Country build on? Used to be ranching, timber harvesting. But the timber industry splintered and ranching life dwindled.

So what then?

Tourism.

And what do we have to offer -- besides fill ups and lunch on the way to some place else?

Tonto Creek, the East Verde and Fossil Creek.

Think on this a minute. Tonto Creek is spring fed -- a magical stream that flows through a trout hatchery. Fossil Creek has just been restored -- magic with travertine. And, God bless us, one more river runs through our back yard: The East Verde.

But it's small and fitful -- crowded with stocked trout in the spring -- often dry by late summer.

Not necessarily. Lately, we've glimpsed a gleam of possibility -- like the swirl of a rising trout.

The Salt River Project has 11,000 acre feet of water sitting in a reservoir up on the Mogollon Rim, including 3,500 acre feet Payson and other Rim communities have contracted to receive.

Now, a newly refurbished pipeline can deliver that 8,000 to 11,000 acre feet annually to the East Verde.

Suddenly, the light refracts off the water -- with that riffle of possibility.

What if we figured out how to use that water to turn the East Verde into one of the most beautiful and reliable streams in Arizona, right outside of town?

Already, key people are paddling up that creek of possibility.

SRP, bless its tidy engineer's soul, wants to get as much of that 11,000 acre feet as possible running down that stream -- fully aware that the most efficient way to move the water is to not let the river run dry.

Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin is talking about using some of the 500 acre feet from Blue Ridge, reserved for the Rim communities besides Payson. She notes that various communities entitled to some of that water already use wells alongside the East Verde -- so why not let the river deliver their water? She's even talking about building a small dam and creating a recreational reservoir on the East Verde outside of Payson.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans is already in conversations with the Forest Service and SRP about the possibilities.

The prospect seems as exciting a river jumper's view of a deep pool from the top of a 20-foot-tall rock.

This is the moment for visionaries and dreamers -- for people who think outside the box canyon.

Fortunately, we believe some of those visionaries just happen to be in the right place at the right time to turn the East Verde into the stream of our dreams -- not to mention one of the anchor points for a tourism industry that will make Payson a destination instead of a stopover.

So we applaud the bold idea -- and anyone with the smarts and imagination to turn it into a reality.

We've glimpsed the future of a community that will produce jobs to keep our kids in town while still protecting the rustle of the pine needles, the sluicing of water over rocks and the chorus of cicadas that brought us all here in the first place.

We have seen the future.

And it turns out -- a river runs through it.

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