Visitors on the rise at Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson

[Source: Peter Aleshire, Payson Roundup] – Bouyed by a 12-percent rise in visitation, the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has returned to a seven-day-a-week schedule as rangers and volunteers brace for a busy holiday weekend.

Managers of the world’s largest natural arch and its historic buildings hope that word will spread among visitors still confused by fire-based forest closures and lingering questions about state parks budget cuts. “I think we’ll be very busy on the Fourth, but I don’t think we’ll be overloaded,” said Ranger Steve Jakublowski, the park manager. “There’s a lot of misconceptions still going on, especially with the fires. People are calling quite a bit wondering whether we’re open.” [to read the full story click here].

New Rye billboard draws attention to Tonto Natural Bridge

[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.


Tonto Natural Bridge State Park rescued by Rim Country again

[Source: Payson Roundup]

Source: Arizona State Parks

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park will not close in September as planned due to the financial support from the Towns of Star Valley and Payson as well as the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge.

These partners have come together to help fund the operations of the park through September of 2011 and the park will stay open on the five-day-per week schedule, said Arizona State Parks Executive Director Renée Bahl.

“Star Valley is one of Arizona’s newest towns with 36-square-miles of incorporated land in its boundaries,” said Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport. “Our town leaders have voted to join the effort to keep the park open. We feel it is crucial because Star Valley’s planning area is 100-square-miles and we are all dependent on tourism. Those thousands of visitors are extremely important for businesses so we have set aside $5,000 in our budget this year to support the State Park.”

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said,

“For more than a year now we have been subsidizing the park to be sure it stays open. This State Park attracts 90,000 visitors to the area and generates $3.6 million per year in spending for all the surrounding communities.”

“It is clear that our $20,000 investment will return millions to the economy and can’t afford to lose a tourism attraction of this magnitude.”

Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge President Bill Ensign said their group has committed $10,000, which is earned by volunteers through fund-raising activities.

“We are thrilled to be part of the solution to help the businesses in the surrounding towns and encourage everyone to come and enjoy the world’s largest travertine bridge, ” said Ensign. “We also welcome any new financial support that can help us keep the Park open into the future.”

Go to for more information about these partnerships and to get information about the September Board meeting.

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Parks board still dreams of the future

[Source: Payson Roundup, Peter Aleshire, 7-20-2010] – Get through the beating. But don’t stop dreaming.

That could serve as the motto of the Arizona State Parks system, reflected recently at a rare retreat and strategy session that brought the board to one of its most endangered treasures: Tonto Natural Bridge. The state parks board finds itself in the position of a scrawny kid getting punched out by a bully after his lunch money. The system is bruised, bloody and curled into the fetal position — but still making plans for college.

The world’s largest natural travertine arch formed an apt setting for the discussion, since the park system’s partnership with Payson to keep the Rim Country’s best known tourist attraction open served as a model to save other parks. As a result of the last-minute rescues by Payson and other counties and towns, the state parks board approved agreements to keep most of the sites in the 28-park system open — despite drastic reductions in its budget. [to read the full article click here].