[Source: Alexis Bechman, Payson Roundup]
If the size of the Tonto Natural Bridge wasn’t big enough to attract visitors, an ad in Rye is sure to catch their attention.
On Tuesday, a 40-foot billboard was plastered with the bridge’s mug shot along with the message “Visit the World’s Largest Natural Travertine Bridge.”
Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park hope the ad will attract more visitors to just one of many state parks struggling to stay open with attendance numbers down along with state funding.
In 2008, approximately 93,000 people visited the bridge, but in the last two years, visitation has dropped considerably due to short-term closures and rumors of permanent closures by the state of Arizona.
The Friends group, along with Gila County, the Town of Payson and the Town of Star Valley, have worked tirelessly with the Arizona State Parks Foundation and the Arizona State Parks Board to assure the park remains open.
Currently, the park is open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is $5 for adults over the age of 14 and $2 for children ages 7-13.
The Friends group worked with American Outdoor Advertising to design and fund the billboard.
“The Friends group cannot thank American Outdoors enough for all they have contributed to make this billboard possible,” said Friends president Derek Shreiner. “Troy Carlson, an account executive for American Outdoors, was fundamental in the production of the sign and is providing the Rim Country with a major opportunity to attract visitors.”
Visitors to Tonto Natural Bridge not only help keep the bridge open, but also help generate sales to local Rim Country businesses, Shreiner said.
The Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge is looking for new members to assist in the continuation of the bridge operation. Assistance can be provided through volunteer efforts at the bridge, financial support and volunteering for Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge activities.
For more information on becoming a friend or volunteer, call the chamber of commerce at (928) 474-4515.
Current board members include Shreiner, vice president John Stanton, treasurer John Wilson, secretary Margaret Jones, Bill Armbruster, Cameron Davis, Bill Ensign, Kenny Evans, Bill Rappaport, Courtney Rogers and Bob Sweetwood.