New, Old Festivals Coming To Payson

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Thanks to volunteer and staff efforts, all park programs and events escaped the chopping block, and the town plans to bring even more events to the Rim Country this year.

With all the talk of layoffs, budget cuts and restructuring of town programs in the last several weeks, it’s hard to sort out what events are coming and which were going.

But volunteers from the Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation and the staff at the Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism office have managed to salvage all programs, so far.

At a January council meeting, the town decided to merge the Payson Parks and Recreation and the Tourism and Economic Vitality departments. After Parks and Recreation Director Rick Manchester was laid off, Cameron Davis became the new director of both departments.

“The community has really stepped up and helped,” Davis said. “But we still need volunteers and help for the next couple years.”

Davis said with the help of volunteers and staff, the blending of two town departments has gone smoothly.

“This has been a very good merger because it will allow us to prioritize and plan our events together,” Davis said. “We are all sitting at the same table now.”

The office of tourism has scheduled more than 100 events for the upcoming year, including both the return of a few favorites that disappeared over the years and some new traditions.

One of the new events is a Civil War reenactment scheduled for April 4 in Green Valley Park. Dubbed the Battle of Payson, the event will highlight the Civil War during two battle reenactments by 50 We Make History actors. After the turnout for the Vietnam Memorial Wall last year, Davis said he knew a Civil War reenactment would be well received.

“This community is very patriotic,” Davis said. “This is a hypothetical event because we know the Civil War did not happen in Payson, but it will still be very educational.”

Throughout the daylong festival, the actors will stay in character so children can ask them questions and learn more about the war. Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee are expected to attend.

“They will set up an encampment so people can talk to them before and after the battles,” Davis said.

“We want this to be a living, breathing educational event.”

The festival will include food vendors and two 30-minute battles, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Admission is free for the April 4 event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Another event sure to create quite the dust pile is the Sawdust Festival on Memorial weekend.

The event was founded in 1975 and ran successfully for 19 years until disappearing. After a 15-year hiatus, Davis has revived the festival with the help of chairperson Bill Neal.

“This event just made a lot of sense being that we are in the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world,” he said. “And people still remember it.”

The event, which used to bring out 2,000 spectators and almost 100 contestants, was canceled after organizers apparently became burned out.

Charlene Hunt, recreation specialist for the parks and recreation, fondly remembers attending the event.

“It was good, family fun,” Hunt said. “Women got involved as much as the men.”

The two-day event, sponsored by Stihl chainsaws, is chock full of logging events, including men’s and women’s bucking, cutting and log stacking. Ax throwing, logrolling, tree climbing, nail driving and treasure hunt events are also planned. And if that’s not enough log fun, a sawdust pile will be filled with cash, and children can rummage through it.

In the future, Davis said he hopes Payson becomes a stop on the timber sport series.

“This is quite a unique event because it takes place nowhere else in the southwest,” Davis said.

One event that has occurred without pause in Payson for the last 125 years is the rodeo. This year, the event is getting some sprucing up. The two-day spring rodeo is turning into a weeklong event that combines the Gracie Lee Haught Memorial Rodeo on May 8 and the May 12 Payson Rodeo. A parade along Main Street is planned, along with live music and dancing.

“We want to bring the fun things back from 25 years ago,” Davis said, “because the event lost some of its luster and became just another stop on the circuit.”

Payson’s August rodeo used to be the No. 1 small-town rodeo on the PRCA circuit, Davis said. But after the rodeo scene took off in the 1980s and became a high-paying sport, Payson’s rodeo declined, Hunt said.

“Payson did not evolve along with the sport and inject the money needed into it,” she said.

Another affair getting some sprucing up is the 16th annual Beeline Cruise-In Auto Show. In 2008, the car show was held on Main Street and brought in an all-time record of $24,000 for local charities. However, several businesses and organizers complained that the space on Main Street was limited and businesses were blocked.

So, the event has been moved to Green Valley Park, which offers more space for cars to park, vendors to sell and spectators to roam freely. The April 24-26 cruise-in should bring in as many as 350 cars and more than 5,000 spectators.

On the parks and recreation side, camps are planned for the summer. Youth and adult sports coordinator Joseph Harris said Payson High School will host the camps for grade school children. High school coaches and students will teach football, basketball and wrestling. For more information on any of the events, visit www.paysonrimcountry.com.

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