Park Reopening Triumph For Rim

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Troubled waters. Big bridge.

All natural. Very cool.

After months of maneuvers, state parks finally made the right decision — and agreed to reopen Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in time for Memorial Day.

About time. Nicely done.

Best of all, the way things worked out could lay the foundation for a real partnership between the park and the community.

The final details seem almost trivial, given the importance of the park to the local tourist economy. Last year, the world’s largest travertine arch drew some 90,000 visitors. One Northern Arizona University study concluded that each of those visitors interjects an average of about $70 into the local economy.

Equally important, the park plays a key role in modern-day, Internet-based trip planning — as evidenced by the number of people who drop into the Payson Visitors Center asking for directions.

So closing the park was always a dumb idea, even in the face of the legislature’s foolish decision to sweep some $35 million out of assorted parks funds — which was probably not only illegal, but delivered a body blow to rural economies in the face of the deepening recession.

So now it turns out the contractors working on the historic inn can accommodate weekend visitors — and Payson has promised to come up with up to $5,000 to pay for the extra staffing the park needs on busy holiday weekends. Still not sure why it took two months to come to figure that out — but hey, why quibble?

Then again, perhaps this wobbly passage across troubled waters will prove a blessing in disguise — the way that floods plant cottonwood and willow seeds on sandbars.

Payson officials have developed a cooperative relationship with state parks now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and many others.

We hope that the town will work now to connect the park and the town in the public mind — with every promotion and festival. That’s one key step in turning Payson into a destination rather that a pit stop. Why not put up a nice monument declaring Payson the “Home of the Tonto Natural Bridge.”

In the meantime, thanks to all involved — for bridging these troubled waters.

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