The Forest Service wants to encourage Payson residents to embrace their status as a gateway community to the 800-mile Arizona Trail which runs through Rim Country’s back yard.
Completed in February on the state’s centennial birthday, the National Scenic Trail winds through 80 miles of the Payson Ranger District. Residents hope publicizing the trail will help boost the region’s vital tourist economy.
“We have more of the Arizona Trail running through our ranger district than most,” said Chelsea Muise, a ranger from the Payson recreation department.
At a March 14 meeting, residents listened to Arizona Trail Forest Service Coordinator Laura White and various other contributors.
White will continue to hold similar meetings in other gateway communities throughout the summer.
The Forest Service hopes to gather public input to rewrite the management plan. The plan has not been rewritten for 10 years.
White said the trail draws diverse groups of users from hiking, equestrian, mountain bike, trail runners and youth groups. These users offer economic opportunities to Payson and Pine — both gateway communities.
“People are moving to areas of outdoor amenities for the trails, mountain biking, birding and good weather,” said Chris Sharp, a graduate student at the University of Arizona.
Sharp is doing research on the shift of the United States population to rural recreation areas.
“We have already had a few trail users visiting our business,” said Steve Morken, owner of the Rimside Grill in Pine.
He and his wife, Tamara, are in the process of converting their grill into a microbrewery and offering lodging to encourage visitors using the trail to visit Pine.
The Morkens believe the Pine-Payson area could morph into an outdoor recreation Mecca like Fruita, Color.
Fruita started as a fruit-producing region, but at one point the town started dying. Its leaders decided to refocus their economy on outdoor recreation. Now hundreds of visitors enjoy its miles of mountain biking trails, hiking, rafting and annual festivals.
One of the largest is the Fat Tire Festival. Running since 1996, the three-day event includes races, live music and parties. The town also hosts a fall harvest festival, a tradition started in 1910.
The Morkens visited Fruita to study its success. The town council met with them, happy to share information.
“The Fruita town council has an entire trail plan for their community,” said Steve. “Its business plan is available on the town’s Web site.”
To sign up for a newsletter, find out information about other Forest Service meetings, or ask questions, please contact Laura White at (520) 388-8328.
The Forest Service Web site for the Arizona Trail is: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/az-trail.
For those interested in asking specific questions about gateway communities, please contact Sirena Dufault of the Arizona Trail Association at (602) 252-4794.