At seemingly the last possible moment, the logjam has cleared — the life-giving stream is rushing now.
We’re talking about the long and fervently awaited news that U.S. Forest Service officials in Washington have approved the direct sale of 253 acres to the Rim Country Educational Alliance (SLE) to build a university campus here in Payson.
The decision clears the way for a final deal with Arizona State University that will enormously benefit everyone involved — including the taxpayers of Payson, the Forest Service, ASU and the state’s taxpayers.
It’s no longer “if,” we’re now down to “when.”
We know you’ve heard happy declarations before. Repeatedly in the endless past three years, we’ve stood at the brink of the fulfillment of this visionary quest. Each time, we’ve suffered crushing delays — hope falling from a high ledge. Often enough, we’ve felt like a bruised Charlie Brown, lining up to take a run at kicking the football, despite the portent of Lucy’s smirks.
Of course, it could happen again. Backers face a daunting list of tasks in the next several months to shore up the agreement with ASU, lock in the financing, draw up a detailed site plan, start work on the infrastructure, bring back to the table the spin-off investments and businesses that will dramatically increase the impact of the project and deal with things like the scattering of pottery shards that once seemed to pose such a threat to the project.
We suspect backers will also have to deal with a renewal of concerns from people worried about how such a major project will affect the treasured, small-town qualities of our little piece of paradise.
But Rim Country desperately needs the economic boost this project will offer. It will provide a crucial economic infusion that lasts year-round — including the dead winter months. It will change expectations — and draw in a host of other businesses. It will enrich the lives of everyone who lives here, from happy business owners to residents who will enjoy a proliferation of entertainment and cultural opportunities.
Of course, we could grumble about why all the agencies that should have pitched in to make this happen instead clogged the channel with piles of deadwood. It made no sense, given the benefits to the state. Payson hit upon a public-private partnership model that can foster the creation of the state college system Arizona desperately needs with little or no cost to the cash-strapped taxpayers. If Payson can make this work, Arizona will have a real chance of keeping up with the need for higher education degrees on which our economy depends.
But never mind: The difficulties only make the accomplishment all the more remarkable. This community owes an enormous debt to the core of dedicated people who have kept the dream alive, overcoming difficulties that would have discouraged any reasonable person.
Instead, they waded into the stream and with bare hands and the tools at hand. They hacked and heaved at the driftwood dam until they finally made a hole through the debris. The water is gushing through the opening now and will clear the remaining obstacles without any doubt. So relax a moment. Long, heavy work lies ahead. But the way is clear now. Listen to the sound of the water — the sound of life.
The greatest danger
Well, it’s up to us, folks.
With the Tonto National Forest declaring extreme fire danger and the weather holding clear and steady, looks like foolish humans remain the biggest threat to the forest.
Already in the past couple of weeks embers from cigarettes, a carelessly used blow torch and even a tossed aside piece of metal have started fires here in town — while Colorado and New Mexico have already suffered another dreadful fire season. A fire hot enough to burn down our town could start that innocently.
But the Rim Country has lived under the threat of wildfires for years and created ways to reduce the danger.
First, we have fire breaks surrounding all of our communities where firefighters can make a stand against onrushing flames.
Second, many homeowners have cleared space around their homes of brush and trees — not enough — but quite a few. Moreover, Forest Service rangers continue to tramp the most highly used areas to make sure visitors follow safe practices.
But it only takes a spark. Until the monsoon rains come, avoid these activities — starting campfires, stove fires or charcoal fires, using chain saws or other equipment that run off of internal combustion engines, smoking outside, firing a gun, lighting fireworks, using explosives, welding torches or any equipment using an open flame.
Take human causes out of the equation and keep our forests green.