April 2007

Spring Fever Starts With Tonto Pass

PHOENIX Thousands of people looking to greet warmer temperatures with visits to the Tonto National Forest are hitting a road block: they lack a Tonto Pass.

On Oct. 2, 2006, the Tonto removed all of the fee machines that provided access to more than 50 recreation sites on the Salt and Verde rivers and their associated chains of lakes. In place of the machines the forest service instituted the Tonto Pass, a daily pass that must be purchased ahead of time from one of almost 200 vendors statewide.

“Despite our best efforts, there are still tens of thousands of people out there who haven’t gotten the word about these changes,” said Delvin Lopez, Tonto public service group leader. “When they arrive at Saguaro Lake and find out they have to turn around and go buy a pass before they can put their boat in the water, they are understandably upset.”  

As the Tonto gears up for another busy spring and summer season – more than 150,000 people are expected to visit the forest over Memorial Day weekend – Lopez is hoping to reduce confusion and conflict at forest fee sites.

“We understand that not being able to buy a pass on site at most locations is a significant change for most of our customers, but we hope they can understand the benefits do outweigh this inconvenience. The fee machines frequently malfunctioned and were targets for vandals. The Tonto Pass program returns more money to the ground, so more of an individual’s fees are being used to maintain the recreation site, not the fee machine.”

The Tonto Pass Program provides opportunities to purchase daily passes and watercraft stickers near visitors’ homes at a time convenient to them – or at a variety of locations on the way to their forest destination.  Many retail vendors have agreed to work in partnership with the forest, providing almost 200 outlets where the passes and stickers can be purchased. 

Outlets are concentrated in the Phoenix metropolitan area and nearby forest locations, but others are located in Tucson, Flagstaff, Prescott, Casa Grande, Globe, and Payson. A list of participating outlets is available on the forest Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.

The daily use fee is $6.00 per vehicle hangtag and $4.00 for each watercraft sticker.  Tonto daily use passes should be attached to the rearview mirror when displayed at the fee site.

 Watercraft-use stickers are attached to the daily pass for each watercraft that is towed to one of the recreation sites of the chain of lakes on the Salt and Verde rivers.  Each pass is good for a 24-hour visit.  Several passes can be used for multiple-day visits.

Using the Tonto National Forest webpage, customers can also order passes and stickers directly from the forest by telephone or by mail, using credit cards and debit cards.

“We think our customers are really going to appreciate the convenience of buying several passes and stickers in advance and then using them as they need them,” said Lopez.  “The passes don’t become ‘active’ until the customer has actually arrived at the recreation site and validates it.  Only then does the 24-hour recreation-use period begin.” 

To learn more about the Tonto Pass Program and to find locations where visitors can purchase daily passes and watercraft use stickers, call the Tonto National Forest at (602) 225-5200 or visit the forest web site, www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.