The Mogollon (pronounced Muggey-own) Rim is an escarpment defining the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. In some sections the Rim features an elevation gain from bottom to top of almost 2000 feet. It runs over 200 miles from the south of Williams, Arizona southeast to the border of Arizona and New Mexico. When someone in Arizona talks of the 'Rim Country' they are usually talking about the 30 mile-long Payson section of the Rim from Pine/Strawberry to where Route 260 climbs the Rim on its way to Heber/Overgaard. Payson is the largest city in this area with a growing population of 15,245. The majestic Ponderosa Pine is the iconic tree of Rim country, thriving both at the bottom of the Rim at 5000' elevations and at the top at 7500' plus elevations. The Mogollon Rim offers many recreational opportunities and is especially appreciated in the summer months where it is much cooler and wetter compared to the lower desert regions.
In addition to its great location, natural beauty and climate, Payson has several factors that will positively influence its future. In the West water is like gold. Obviously for a golf course community, water is a key component of its existence. The town of Payson has contracted with the Salt River Project and has secured water rights to 27% of the C.C. Cragin Reservoir (approximately 3000 acre-feet annually.) The Blue Ridge pipeline connecting the reservoir to Payson was completed in 2019. This new water source, plus a network of existing ground water wells, means that Payson is one of the only towns in Arizona with a permanent, sustainable water supply that could serve over 45,000 residents, more than triple the current population. If you are interested in learning more about Payson’s water future, check out the Blue Ridge Fact Sheet.
For many years, Payson has been an attractive retirement community and tourist stopover on the way to recreational opportunities in the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. Without a major industry driving the Payson economy, tourism, the service sector and local retail have sustained Payson’s rural economy. But changes are on the horizon. Through the leadership of former Mayor Kenny Evans and the Mogollon Health Alliance (MHA) Foundation, 265 acres of beautiful wooded property stretching from the Tonto National Forest Ranger station to the western gate of The Rim community, were purchased from the USFS in 2015. Plans call for the land to be developed for a multi-university campus including dormitories, conference center/hotel and a small technology park.
The goal of the university project is to provide access to an affordable university degree from a world-class university in a beautiful rural setting. The architecture of the campus will leverage its location in one of the nation’s largest ponderosa pine forests and will be a low impact, environmentally friendly, green campus.
Initial steps to meet this goal have been with the University of Arizona Medical College's creation of a residency program in Rural Medicine located in Payson.
In support of this effort, the Aspire Arizona Foundation (AAF) was founded to fund scholarships, programs and facilities for the future campus. Aspire is already assisting local students to pursue college degrees by providing scholarships for dual credit academic courses taught by Gila Community College at Payson High School. This year over 40% of Payson High School’s graduating seniors earned college credits with the help of AAF scholarships.
The future is bright for Payson. A university will bring new opportunities and change. To learn more about the university project or how you can participate in Aspire Arizona visit Aspire Arizona Foundation.