Organizers hope that a plan to bring perhaps 5,000 motorcycle riders to Payson in October will lift the battered tourist economy and help local non-profits with a big, late-season event.
The Payson Town Council recorded its own vote of confidence at its regular meeting last week when it approved a special event liquor license, with the condition that the organizers fence off an area of Green Valley Park to contain anyone who buys alcohol at the event.
The Thunder Mountain Ride will bring motorcyclists from all over the country to Payson on Oct. 8, 9 and 10 — lured by plans to raffle off 11 Harley-Davidson motorcycles and two Yamaha dirt bikes, plus $5,000 in cash prizes. All told, organizers will raffle off about $150,000 worth of motorcycles.
The Mogollon Health Alliance has spent the past six months organizing the first-ever Payson event, in hopes that it will become an annual fund-raising staple for local charities.
The main sponsor for the event is Native Air ambulance service, but a host of other local and national groups have also provided support.
If all goes well, the weekend will turn into a mini-Fourth of July at the tail end of the tourist season — complete with planned fireworks.
Organizers hope that roughly 5,000 bikers will come to the park each day, drawn by bands, dancing, a kid fun zone, motorcycle stunts, vendors, day rides and contests.
“This is going to be really exciting to see how this all works — and the knot in my stomach I guess is excitement, not an ulcer,” said Judy Baker, chief executive officer for the Mogollon Health Alliance.
The planned event has spurred mixed reactions in town — ranging from celebration to trepidation.
The town’s 700 hotel rooms are reportedly already rented and campgrounds in the area are filling up fast.
The event features $60 and $120 entry fees for people who want to enter the raffles for one of the 13 motorcycles being given away. People can also just buy tickets for the events — which will cost $5 a day for local residents and $10 a day for out-of-towners.
That ticket gets people into the park where they can watch motorcycle stunts, listen to two or three different bands each day, browse among the vendors and get involved in various contests.
Some businesses and residents have worried about whether such a huge concentration of bikers might spur problems for residents and police.
But Baker said the event has been pitched mostly to baby boomers who have climbed on hogs and hit the open road in the course of their mid-life crisis.
Organizers hope that the rougher, drug-connected biker types that have created problems for areas like Chino Valley will stay away — perhaps attend the 81st Birthday Celebration for legendary Hells Angel leader Sony Barger, being held in Chino Valley on the same weekend.
Instead, organizers hope the thousands of riders drawn to the Payson event will enjoy the events in the park, stay in local hotels, and spill over into local night spots and restaurants once events shut down at the park at 9 p.m.
Outback Steakhouse will provide the food for people inside the fencing.
The town council imposed restrictions on the special event liquor license, to both contain the crowd and prevent the liquor sales in the park from killing sales elsewhere in town.
People will have to pay the entrance fee to get through the fence and into the vendor area —and cannot take any liquor through the fence either way.
Those same rules applied to the special event liquor license for the rodeo.
The organizers will also set up a play area for kids in the playground of Julia Randal Elementary School, which will be out of session for the fall break. The organizers will set up things like bounce houses, tall inflatable slides, a jousting area and other games in a play area that will be supervised, if people want to leave their kids to play for a while.
Children can also accompany their parents through the gate into the main event area.
Baker said the Mogollon Health Alliance will be happy to break even this year on the mammoth event, but hopes it will become a fund-raising mainstay for local charities in the future.
“These are tough times, Non-profits are having trouble surviving and so are businesses. So this is our own little economic stimulus plan,” said Baker, noting with satisfaction the quick sellout of hotel rooms in town for that weekend.