Tourist Season Starts Strong

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Airplane lovers flocked to the Aero Fair to ohhh and ahhh at the vintage airplanes, like this World War II fighter..

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

George Barendes (left) talks about his scaled down version of a British Spitfire with Fabian Crout during the Aero Fair Saturday. Barendes started flying when he was a young man and flew for many years whenever he could.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Organizers of this year’s Aero Fair say more than 1,500 people made their way to the airport on Saturday to crane their necks back to admire the vintage planes like this World War II vintage bomber and line up for $25 thrill rides — with all the money going to local charities. Vendors plied their wares, a Forest Service helicopter made water drops, kids gathered for special contests and games and a World War II Spitfire fighter plane delighted the crowd.

photo

Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Dale Basham, a retired commercial pilot, owns the light, sport bi-wing plane in the foreground. Basham has flown for the Air Force, National Guard, and as a commercial pilot for NorthWest Airlines. While in Guam he flew a Vulture 50 into typhoons for three seasons all over the Pacific. Planes he has flown, include Boeing 747, 707, 727, and the DC-10. He bought the sport plane in Frankfurt, Kentucky and flew it back to Payson.

Rim Country businesses are “holding their own” in the face of the ongoing recession, with one good weekend behind them and a hoped-for blockbuster just ahead.

“We’re holding our own right now,” said Payson Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis. “We’ve filled up the town nearly every weekend.”

The Spring Rodeo drew modest crowds and the Aero Fair drew more than 1,500, but the combination made for another busy weekend in town.

That’s a relief to town officials heading into the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, when they’re also promoting the reopening of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

“We’ve had nearly 1,000 people come to ask directions since it closed,” said Davis, who said the town is promoting the opening of the park in its advertisements now. In addition, the town hopes the return of the Loggers Sawdust Festival this weekend will draw additional visitors.

“We’ve had 400 people hit the tab for the Sawdust Festival” since it was added to the town’s tourism Web site, said Davis. “And we’ve had a big spike in people searching out ‘Payson’ in the last 10 days.”

Organizers for the Aero Fair held over the weekend said they haven’t yet tallied up all the visitors, but feel sure the total outstripped last year’s 1,500.

“Turnout was very good,” said Marie Fasano.

One of the big hits of the air show was the appearance of a Forest Service firefighting helicopter, which dropped several loads of water with a satisfying whoosh and crash.

About 400 people showed up for the $7-a-head breakfast, with all the proceeds going to support community charities that benefit children. In addition, 150 people signed up for the short, sightseeing flights at $25 per ride. All that money also went to charity, since the pilots donated their time.

The show ended up attracting more vintage and novelty planes than organizers had expected, as word of mouth leaked out to plane owners — many of whom put in a surprise appearance.

The World War II-era B25 bomber and Spitfire fighter plane got lots of attention, she noted.

Some 20 community organizations participated and about 50 vendors set up booths.

Fasano noted that one of the emotional high points was a visit from a group of residents from a Rim Country nursing home — some in wheelchairs.

“A couple of them were World War II vets,” she said. “One was a P51 pilot, who was talking to the owner of the Spitfire, with just the biggest grin on his face.”

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