A plan to improve the American Gulch could finally come to fruition with the proposed donation of key parcels of land off Main Street.
Olive Henry Matus, 92, a resident of Rim Country since 1954, and her family, have agreed to explore donating land for the purpose of creating a “water theme” on Main Street.
The family would like the town to create a water feature in the mostly dry gulch, which now handles seasonal flooding. They hope that creating a linear park along the gulch would become a major tourist draw.
Various officials and developers have suggested letting water flow down the gulch, either with a recirculating system that could also handle floodwater or with a system to release C.C. Cragin water into the water table through a recharge feature.
The family is working to convince other landowners to join in their dream.
Matus’ daughter Lynnie Raichert and developer Bob DeBella have agreed to spearhead the project for the family.
“Our roots run deep here, we aren’t arriving to change the town and leave. We’d like it to grow and thrive abundantly,” said Raichert.
Years ago, developer Hallie Overman-Jackman proposed something similar further down the waterway, but that project got pulled under by the riptide of the recession.
Matus and Raichert joined with DeBella to pitch the development of multi-storied housing on land they would keep along the gulch to the Payson Town Council during its Aug. 8 meeting.
If the town can find money to develop a water feature, it would both provide a tourist draw and solve flood control problems for land owners along Main Street. Such a project could ultimately connect to the Green Valley Lakes, which resulted from another visionary project Payson undertook years ago.
“It was a long time coming,” said Raichert. “Mom is 92 now and lives on the (Green Valley) lake in Woodland Meadows ... water is such a big deal ... we need to perfect Main Street with a water theme because it took a long time to get the water (from C.C. Cragin).”
The family’s property runs roughly between Main Street and West Aero Drive. It backs up to McLane Road. A third piece, owned by the Messinger family, sits behind the old Mogollon Moose Bakery on Main Street.
During significant rainstorms, these properties turn into lakes, making building virtually impossible — unless the flood plain could be engineered to manage the water.
“That land at this moment is considered a flood plain,” said Councilor Steve Smith. “By re-channeling the gulch, we could reduce the flood plain.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did something similar on a much larger scale when it turned a flood plain into the Indian Bend wash project in Scottsdale, now a chain of parks and golf courses and one of the booming tourist town’s main amenities.
DeBella laid out the vision for the property after getting the flood plain under control.
“We would like to retain some of that land for multi-family use — to make that area more lively,” he said. “If someone looks at it and is impressed with beautiful landscaping and ... have a corridor with walking trails ... I think the project would be a benefit for everyone.”
The vision captured Councilor Jim Ferris’ attention.
“I would be really excited about this,” he said. “If there’s some dredging out, there could be property that could be taken out of the flood plain and more. If we could have a water feature, it would be a big benefit to develop Main Street.”
Mayor Tom Morrissey said, “You can build something that is reasonably priced.”
Raichert said everything is very preliminary on the gulch project.
Her family recently transferred ownership of the Doll Baby Ranch to the Tonto National Forest and land in Christopher Creek to a local church.
“We are hoping to do whatever the town supports us doing,” said Raichert. “So we’re hoping to get a proposal from the town.”
Councilor Barbara Underwood expressed gratitude to the group.
“Thank you Lynnie and Bob and the family. This is that missing piece of the puzzle to make that gulch beautiful.”
The Matuses opened the Creekside Restaurant in the 1970s in Christopher Creek and Matus’ brother, Rich Henry, managed the Payson Airport for many years and founded the Crosswinds Restaurant.