Rain, gas prices and fire restrictions in the national forests could thin the Rim Country crowds this Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the booming summer travel season.
Still, the State Department of Game and Fish has double-stocked Rim Country streams (see story 1C, 12C), local communities will host a gaggle of special events (see calendar page 2A), hotels are filling up and most campgrounds should overflow.
Moreover, the late winter storm that may frighten off some travelers also eased dangerous fire conditions and prompted the Apache Sitgreaves Forest to lift the fire restrictions it had just imposed up on the Rim. The Tonto National Forest, including the Payson Ranger District, will continue its ban on all campfires, even in developed campgrounds.
Meantime, the American Automobile Association is predicting that soaring gas prices will prompt the first decline in holiday travel in six years. Normally, 13 percent of state residents take to the road over the three-day weekend. This year, AAA predicts only 12 percent will get out of town.
Those who head for the Rim Country will probably get rained on today and tomorrow morning, but enjoy clearing skies and mild temperatures Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Fortunately, the Arizona Department of Transportation managed to finish up work to fully reopen the Beeline Highway just in time for the holiday. Road crews have now opened all lanes in both directions, after a landslide triggered a massive earthmoving project that initially close the highway and then restricted travel to one lane in each direction at the site of the slide.
On the other hand, drivers will also have to run a law enforcement gauntlet intended to reduce the holiday death toll. Last year, seven Arizonans died in crashes during Memorial Day weekend. At least two of those fatal crashes were alcohol related, according to ADOT.
As a result, drivers cruising along the reopened highway will have to navigate drunk driving checkpoints, including one manned by the Tonto Apache Police Department, which will set up checkpoints on the Beeline Highway.