Visitors, volunteers, staff bid adieu to Tonto Natural Bridge park

Leo Budd of Payson, who has been visiting Tonto Natural Bridge for more than 30 years, pays a visit on Feb. 26, 2009, the day the park was set to close due to state budget cuts.

[Source: Alyson Zepeda, Cronkite News Service] — Leo Budd has been coming to Tonto Natural Bridge since 1971, long before this site became a state park.  When he learned it was closing, he rushed here from his Payson home.  “It’s definitely a sad event,” Budd said.  “I bring all of my out-of-town visitors here to see this.”

As of Thursday, Arizona State Parks closed Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and Jerome State Historic Park.  The agency, grappling with budget cuts, said the parks, as well McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, which already was shut down for repairs, are in dire need of repairs.  A steady trickle of visitors took their last chance — at least for now — to view Tonto Natural Bridge on Thursday, some seeing it for the first time and others bidding farewell after years of dropping by.  “It’s sad that they have to close it,” said Tina Beebe of Pontiac, Ill., visiting for the first time with her husband, Pete.

At 183 feet high and more than 400 feet long, Tonto Natural Bridge, located about 10 miles north of Payson, is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.  Once owned by a family that ran a guest ranch on the site, it opened as a state park in 1991.  Around 45 volunteers, some of whom have made caring for the park the focus of their retirement, have been told that their services are no longer needed because it’s a liability to have them on the grounds unsupervised.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]