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Payson’s 4th of July – a little slice of Americana

The water balloon toss debacle probably counts as the Valley Forge moment of Payson’s 2019 celebration — only it happened in Payson’s Green Valley Park, not a frozen East Coast wilderness.

On the other hand, the pie-eating contest was sweet as the victory at Yorktown.

In between Payson raised the flag, sang patriotic songs, ate lots of hot dogs, suffered heat stroke and sunburn, soothed overtaxed grandchildren and overexcited dogs. The whole day served up a little slice of Americana.

For one day of the year, residents celebrate the birth of a country that recognized the rights of the individual over the dictates of a king.

Michele Nelson / Michele Nelson/Roundup  

The Honor Guard saluted as the flag rose over Green Valley Park to launch the 2019 4th of July celebrations.

“The Declaration is the birth certificate of our nation,” said retired Marine Col. Bill Sahno as he opened the day with the Color Guard raising the flag at the War Memorial in Green Valley Park.

But that doesn’t mean the day ran perfectly.

Consider the defective water balloons.

Kaprice Bachtell, second in command at the Town of Payson Parks and Recreation Department, had to improvise like George Washington when her staff discovered many of the 2,000 water balloons burst well before the battle.

“We start filling them up at 10 a.m.,” she said, “but we had a problem with the balloons this year — they kept popping.”

Her staff filled the balloons and put them in containers. But when they opened the containers just before the battle, most had broken.

So, Bachtell dropped the age groups and did heats.

DJ Craig / Contributed by Dj Craig 

Due to “defective water balloons” the town mixed ages for the traditional water balloon toss prompting this father to play with his daughter, which DJ Craig captured. The Payson Golf Course (above) was a popular place for residents to take in the Fourth of July fireworks show (Peter Aleshire photo).

“That way we just got whoever was interested to participate,” she said.

Washington would have appreciated the flexibility under fire. Kind of like crossing the Delaware in the dead of winter in a big storm, only to discover just one of his three forces made it across to attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He decided to attack anyway, taking the German mercenaries by surprise and winning a victory that likely saved the revolution.

A sweet victory.

Rose Ellis of Mesa also sought a sweet victory — in the pie-eating contest. She was so proud she took a whipped cream covered selfie with her hubby Dyson.

DJ Craig / Contributed by DJ Craig  

Rose Ellis was so proud of her whipped cream face she promptly took a selfie with her husband Dyson after the contest. He said she insisted on re-living a childhood dream of winning a pie-eating contest.

“She was like, ‘I’m doing the pie-eating contest! I won a pie-eating contest when I was a kid,’” he said.

As the two chatted, their son Oliver licked the pie tin clean.

Their youngest Patrick, 2, then started to have a meltdown. They hoped to make it to the fireworks — if he took a nap.

Dawn Tatum just hoped her granddaughter Mya Lopez wouldn’t toss the pie she gulped during the kid’s pie-eating contest.

The town decided to only serve a slice for the contest, but Mya still looked green after gulping down her piece, piled high with whipped cream. Her friends visiting from California seemed to do just fine.

“My granddaughter said, ‘I don’t know about this,’ before starting,” said Tatum. “I told her just to pretend to eat until somebody wins.”

Michele Nelson / By Michele Nelson ​roundup staff reporter 

Dawn Tatum's granddaughter Mya didn't take her advice to just 'pretend to eat until someone won'. She didn't feel so hot after the contest was over, but Tatum said she insisted on doing the competition.

Others took a more relaxed approach to the day, napping or playing poker, grilling burgers or just talking with family under awnings scattered about the park.

Most just tried to get through the heat of the day for the fireworks display.

You know, kind of like the rag-tag Continental Army — surviving their many defeats to come finally to the thunder of the artillery over the trapped British Army at Yorktown.

Or at least, to win a war against long odds so that 241 years later, children could celebrate their struggle with water balloons and a big old slice of pie.

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Boy Scouts rescued from trail

Rescuers airlifted one Boy Scout, hand-carried out another and provided water to a handful of others after a group ran into heat and medical issues outside Camp Geronimo recently.

The Boy Scout troop was reportedly doing trail maintenance outside the camp June 30, located north of Payson below the Mogollon Rim, said Bill Pitterle, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue commander.

It appears the heat of the day and the strenuousness of the trail overtook the group, he said.

One of the boys was having trouble breathing and appeared to have heat stroke so “out of an abundance of caution” was airlifted from the trail for medical treatment, Pitterle said.

Another boy was also having heat issues and TRSAR volunteers carried him out on a wheeled litter.

TRSAR hauled water up for the rest of the group and they were able to walk out safely, he said.

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Man's body recovered off Cracker Jack

The body of a Payson man was found off Cracker Jack Road Wednesday, a week after he reportedly left home.

The Gila County Sheriff’s Office is still piecing together what happened to the man as it is unclear how he died and when.

The man, who officials have not yet identified, reportedly liked to go out by himself to camp and hike and would often be gone for a week at a time, said GCSO Sgt. Dennis Newman.

This time, however, when he didn’t show back up, his mother grew worried and filed a missing persons report sometime last week, said GCSO Det. Sgt. David Hornung.

A few days after she filed that report, someone reported an unattended vehicle some two miles down Cracker Jack, west of East Verde Estates. A deputy ran the truck’s plate and it came back as the vehicle of the missing man, Hornung said. The man’s wallet, cell phone and car keys were in the unlocked vehicle.

The GCSO called in Tonto Rim Search and Rescue to help look for the man. TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle and another volunteer located the body some 200 yards from his vehicle on a hill above the road, Hornung said.

His backpack was sitting on an outcropping of rocks and his body was located below a rock, Hornung said.

It is unclear how long the man’s body had been there, when he died or how, Hornung said.

It appears the man was last heard from a week earlier.

“I guess he liked to go out in to the woods for extended periods of time,” Newman said.

The sheriff’s office is awaiting the results of an autopsy and toxicology report to determine a cause of death.

Main Street Merchants Guild talks festivals

From an “Oktoberfest,” to more murals, a pumpkin patch, historical gunfight re-enactments to a winter wonderland festival — these are just some of the ideas thrown around at the most recent Main Street Merchants Guild meeting.

Once quiet, poorly attended affairs, the most recent meeting quickly took off with Mayor Tom Morrissey in attendance along with Trevor Fleetham and Bobby Davis from the town, along with a group of merchants and Main Street residents.

Mary Hansen, owner of the Oxbow Saloon, held the floor for most of the meeting. She encouraged business owners to get more involved in projects, including several upcoming events.

Main Street Days, a festival originally proposed for September has been moved to October and renamed “Oktoberfest.”

Hansen said she has received all the permits needed to host Oktoberfest from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 and Saturday, Oct. 12.

“Every single thing I have requested has been approved,” said Hansen. “If people say the town never approves anything that’s not true.”

Hansen said they have waited years for the town to redevelop Main Street, but it’s up to the local businesses to help improve the street now.

“We all need to do something to help ourselves,” she said, “instead of waiting for someone to come in with $2 million to $4 million for a grand project. That isn’t going to happen.”

“The town belongs to you — the people in this town,” said Morrissey. “Until recently, we’ve had the culture of Dr. No. There’s been negativity mainly because of the economic downturn. That is done — gone. As long as I am mayor, things are going to be positive. We’ll bend over backwards for the business community. Forget about the old days, you’ll have our support. You deserve it — we work for you. When you bring something don’t be timid about it.”

The group discussed vendor permits for Oktoberfest and closing Main Street off for the event. A merchant proposed letting local vendors in free and charging out-of-town vendors $25 to cover their permit. Organizers said they would screen outside vendors to avoid competition with locals.

“The Town of Payson and Payson fire chief have agreed to close Main Street for the event,” said Hansen. “The fire chief said it would cause only a 45-second delay.”

Hansen said if property owners wanted to have vendors on their property to have them sign a permit to avoid liability. She said the event will have an Old West theme complete with gunfights, historical re-enactments and skits.

“We need to have stuff that reflects on our history,” said Hansen. “It doesn’t have to cost a million dollars. We need to let people know who Gary Hardt was, for example, and why there is a Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo. People come here from out of town and have no idea.”

Hansen said the fire department turned down hayrides because of the red flag days, but she plans to plant a pumpkin patch behind the Oxbow and run a small train.

The group wants to kick off Oktoberfest with the Sawmill whistle.

Minette Hart, president of the Main Street Merchants Guild, has been coordinating with the Sawmill Theatres complex and whistle owner, Gordon Whiting, for several months to get the whistle operational again.


The group later discussed the town’s decision to move Trunk or Treat to Green Valley Park.

“Taking Trunk or Treat off Main Street hurt the businesses,” said Hansen. “We’d like to coordinate with the Town of Payson on Trunk or Treat, but if we have to, we’ll do our own event.”

“I think it should be returned to Main Street,” said Davis, adding he intends to talk to Morrissey and Town Manager LaRon Garrett.

Attracting new businesses

An audience member said, “We need to attract businesses to Main Street. I have a radical suggestion. Eliminate their property taxes for three years if they have a retail business. Retail businesses pay sales tax. Give them some incentive to move there.”

Chuck Proudfoot, vice president of the Main Street Merchants Guild said, “You cannot do tax increment financing. The state of Arizona outlawed it. The town can’t just forgive taxes.”

Getting the word out

“Not once has Historic Main Street been included in Adventure Payson,” said Hansen. “The town could support us by adding Main Street activities on their printed calendar and website.”

“They’re working on those things six to eight months in advance,” said Davis. “Contact Courtney (Spawn), let them know, remind them to put Historic Main Street on the map.”

Other events and projects:

Winter Wonderland

An idea for a winter wonderland to take place one week prior to the Electric Light Parade was introduced.


Hart and Elizabeth Fowler plan to work on getting grants to paint historically-themed murals. A large mural on the outside of the Sawmill Theatres is scheduled for October.


Hansen introduced the idea of each business paying a one-time fee of $300 for an eight-feet long shingle lit by solar carriage lights. The shingles would identify and advertise the businesses and conform to Town of Payson required colors — natural with yellow, white or forest green.


Maia Crespin, with the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, will no longer be coordinating the benches along Main Street. From now on, any business who wishes to install a bench with a plaque/nameplate will pay the town a one-time fee of $25 and their bench will be a permanent fixture.


Businesses are encouraged to purchase a whiskey barrel and plant flowers in it as part of the Main Street beautification plan.

“I’m excited to see so many people here,” said Davis. “This is our town. We work for you like the mayor says. The stronger the business groups are the more effective they are. I love what I’m hearing.”

The Main Street Merchants Guild meetings have been changed to the first Monday of the month at 5:15 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main St.

Payson’s pipeline brings flood of challenges

By now, you’re drinking water from C.C. Cragin Reservoir.

Call it an Independence Day gift for Rim Country, since the gush of 3,000 acre-feet annually will assure the region’s water independence in an increasingly water-short state.

Payson’s been eyeing that water for decades, ever since Phelps Dodge built the dam that created the 15,000 acre-foot reservoir on top of the Rim back in 1962. The mining company created the reservoir to have water to trade for the water it needed to run its mines in eastern Arizona. So it swapped water rights with the Salt River Project, which brought it within reach of Payson.

The town finally sweet talked Congress into approving its rights to water from the reservoir in 2007, but it took another decade to finally build the system of pumps and pipelines necessary to deliver the water to Payson taps.

And that demanded technical solutions to a host of vexing questions.

For starters, how do you mix mineral-free snowmelt with mineral-laden groundwater, without a water quality nightmare?

Then how do you stash perhaps 2,000 acre-feet of water underground each year for future use?

And finally, how can you use this gush of water to wash away old political conflicts, while securing the region’s future?

The chemistry of water

For starters, the system poses a major challenge in chemistry — mixing the almost mineral-free, “soft” snowmelt from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir atop the Rim with the mineral-laden, “hard” water pulled from Payson’s aquifer, which has encrusted all the pipes and valves in the whole system with calcium and other minerals.

When Tucson took delivery of water from the Central Arizona Project, sludge sputtered out of Tucson water pipes when the soft water from the river dissolved the calcium coating the pipes. The dreadful looking water caused a scandal — and years of expensive retrofitting.

“We don’t want to do a Tucson, that’s for sure,” said Tanner Henry, Payson Water Department manager.

The water first goes into what’s called a “flocculation basin,” where the plant operators add a chemical that makes all the little particles in the water clump together so they’re easier to remove. An electric charge then makes the clumps grow larger.

“Gordon Dimbat is the water quality engineer at the town and he’s making sure everything is functioning properly, really on the molecular level.”

From the flocculation basin, the water goes to a maze of tubes with microscopic holes. The tubes filter out everything over a certain size — perhaps .01 micron. This removes all the solids, leaving only pure water. After passing through the microfiltration tubes, the water goes through a series of filters using granulated activated carbon, which removes the byproducts from the earlier processing and all organic carbon.

Ironically, the next step adds back in minerals, with the injection of carbon dioxide.

“The water from C.C. Cragin is really soft. The pH is too high. So this brings it down a bit — adds a little hardness,” said Tanner.

Next the water goes to giant mixing tanks, before heading into the pumps and into the town’s existing water system. Setting things up for the new water required the town to put new connections between its existing, separate well fields, so for the nine months the water from the reservoir flows into town, every house and business can use the Cragin water.

The town had to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get permission from the state Department of Water Quality to mingle reservoir water with an existing drinking water system.

“So we want to match the chemistry as closely as possible. We don’t want to break loose any formations in the pipes. Over the years, we’ll slowly transition to softer water. We don’t want to make the same mistake Tucson did. So maybe over a number of years we’ll dial back our chemical usage,” said Henry.

Storing Payson’s future water supply

And if that’s not enough, Payson also has an unusual, “perched granite” aquifer, which means the water underground is stashed in crushed and complicated layers of granite. Sometimes, water flows easily from well to well along faults in the granite. Sometimes, the water levels in one well remain completely independent of a nearby well. The town has 42 wells, 37 of them feeding water into the system. Six 400- to 1,000-foot-deep wells will inject C.C. Cragin water into the fractures of the “Payson Granite” underlying the town.

“We honestly don’t have any idea how that will really work because there’s no way to predict it, although we contracted with a hydrogeology firm — ATC — and we’ve conducted tests over 48 hours. But we’ve never had a plentiful supply of water where we could run them full tilt for a month.”

Most towns and cities draw water from layers of alluvial material — sand and gravel deposited over thousands or millions of years by rivers. Those loose, uncompressed layers hold and release water readily. But Payson has an entirely different situation, since the water’s trapped in much less porous layers of granite.

“We don’t know if the logic of an alluvial basin applies, that’s what makes it really difficult. Everyone else has always injected into an alluvial basin, so we had to get the state to agree to our monitoring protocol to make sure we’re not surfacing water and making it come out of the ground in places it hasn’t before.”

The water levels in the network of town wells dropped 70 or 100 feet in many places before the town imposed tough water restrictions, shortly before the recession. Well levels stabilized about 10 years ago, still far below historic levels.

During the nine months a year the pipeline runs, the town will get all its water from the pipeline.

Not only will the town stop pumping water from the water table during the period, the six injection wells will add something like 1,000 acre-feet to the existing underground supply.

The town will resume pumping groundwater during the winter, when snows shut down the pipeline on top of the Rim.

The town’s not sure whether the water put underground through the six injection wells will spread out and replenish the diminished levels in other wells throughout the system. It costs about $100,000 to turn a normal well into an injection well. This involves reversing the flow at the bottom of a well, so instead of pulling water in from the surrounding rock, it pushes water back out into the ground.

“The question is how do you control a valve 800 feet underground?”

The answer involves a $75,000, stainless steel valve in the bottom of each injection well. “Stainless steel valves are not widely used in other places, so we’re getting inquiries all the time. Obviously, everyone’s concerned about spending that kind of money. They want to see if it works. So far, they’ve been a great success.”

In the final part of this series on Cragin, we will look at the politics of wastewater and wells.

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