We’ve all heard the lament: Payson’s just a pit stop on the way to somewhere interesting. We who love this town know better.
But a reputation’s a hard thing to change.
That’s why the recent changes flowing downstream toward the East Verde River mean a lot to this town.
The Payson Ranger District currently has plans to put parking lots and toilets at four sites along the East Verde off Flowing Springs Road, to create a day use area. Once those improvements are finished — perhaps later this year — the Forest Service will charge $5 or $10 a day to use the facilities. Hopefully, they’ll also issue affordable annual passes for the locals as well.
The improvements represent a long-overdue upgrade, triggered we suspect by the near-disaster of the Water Wheel Fire last fall. Clearly, the Forest Service needed to act to prevent uncontrolled camping and fires in that vital river corridor — one of this state’s largely undiscovered treasures.
The Forest Service response could turn the East Verde into a premier attraction — Payson’s answer to Sedona’s Oak Creek.
The Forest Service’s welcome move to protect the river corridor while still welcoming visitors comes at a promising moment.
For starters, the Salt River Project has started releasing 30 cubic feet per second from the Blue Ridge pipeline terminus at Washington Park into the creek — doubling or tripling the summer flows. That should continue for eight months out of the year from now on, as SRP shuttles its share of some 11,000 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water down the stream, into the Verde River and on into SRP’s reservoirs serving Phoenix.
That dramatic increase in flow will ensure the stream remains appealing and hopefully fishable all through the summer tourist season.
Payson has earmarked about $500,000 in federal stimulus grant money to fund improvements along the East Verde — including perhaps improving the trout habitat along the fishable portions of the stream.
Now, throw in the Green Valley Park lakes, nearby creeks like Tonto and Haigler and even the proximity to both Roosevelt Lake and the Rim lakes — and you have a new identity for Payson. Instead of a town linked to water rationing — we can brag on a becoming a center for water-based recreation. This will give us a chance to portray Payson as a family destination, not just a pass-through town.
So once the weekend crowds abate, take a minute to visit the East Verde along Houston Mesa and Flowing Springs roads. Take a fishing pole or a good novel. Sit and listen: That’s the sweet sound of the future gurgling past.