Forest Lakes Estates is an unincorporated subdivision within Coconino County, Arizona. There is no local town government; it falls under the guidance and support of Coconino County. This includes planning and zoning, building codes, County ordinances, road maintenance, and a resident Sheriff's Deputy.
Forest Lakes Estates Subdivision is all private land, but is situated within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The Black Mesa Ranger District, located in Overgaard, has jurisdiction over the National Forest in our area. They do not have legal jurisdiction within the subdivision.
It is located on Arizona Highway 260 between Payson and Heber. Elevation is 7800 feet. There are over 900 1-plus acre home sites in the subdivision located on both the North and South sides of the highway.
Businesses that service the area are two general stores, a gas station, two restaurants, 5 RV Resorts, a motel, and cabin rentals.
Many near-by lakes can be enjoyed for fishing, boating, hiking, picnicking, and just hanging out to enjoy the flora and fauna. The forest has many service roads that are great for car trips, riding ATV's, hiking trails, finding terrific view points, and camping.
The area that is now Forest Lakes began as mining claims filed by Reed Denison in the late 1939 and early 1940 era. Reed Denison was the brother of Alvis Denison who initiated the present settlement of the area with Bill Wheeler Denison and Bob Williams.
Reed Denison was killed in an auto accident in 1949. At this time Alvis became highly involved and continued to develop the mining interests of the area. The principle metal involved was manganese. The United States government was purchasing the metal and stockpiling it.
The main cabin was built before 1955 when Alvis and Marie Denison, his wife, who was the sister of Bill Wheeler. Denison and Ted Wheeler moved in permanently.
An ore separation plant was designed by Alvis and constructed where the Dump area is now located. The water well for the plant was the first water well drilled in the area. Two large diesel generators were installed to furnish power for the plant.
Bill and Alvis conducted the mining with the help of two Caucasian miners and five Indian families from the Zia Indian Reservation located northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the ore was washed out, it was transported to Show Low, Arizona and loaded into gondola cars at the railhead. The ore was then railed to the smelter at El Paso, Texas for stockpiling. The U.S. Government ceased to stockpile manganese in the early 1960’s and the operation turned to some logging and the idea of developing a recreation and summer home area began to materialize. Unit Number One was layed out and the first sign announcing the availability of Lots was erected on the south side of the road. The improved highway was built later. The lots began to sell and some of those original buyers now have houses and still occupy them, some on a permanent basis. Although Alvis Denison died on July 22, 1964, the area continued to prosper and grow under the management of Bill Wheeler Denison and Bob Williams
The first ‘water department” was a single faucet near the turn-around in front of Marie and Alvis’s house. The newcomers filled their water cans, jugs, pans, etc. and hauled it to their new mountain retreats. A homeowners association was formed, the Forest Lakes Owners Association. The first principle function of this organization was to secure electricity for the area from Arizona Public Service. The power at that time ended at Christopher Creek. The Owners Association had to guarantee A.P.S. that it would use $35,000.00 worth of electricity per year if A.P.S. would bring the power up the face of the rim and into the subdivision. The first year was a success.
The next project for the Forest Lakes Owners Association was water. Getting water for the property owners was more of a problem. In 1967, there were about 150 lots that had either a cabin or a trailer on them. It was soon realized that the subdivision was growing faster than the water supply. The well at the Denison house would only supply about 15 g.p.m. Merz and Bill Denison gave the Owners Association 1/4 acre of land on the southeast corner of Merzville Rd. and Old Rim Rd. They also had a well drilled and installed a 5,000-gallon storage tank. People who belonged to the Owners Association were issued a key to a lock box on the front of the well house. In the box was a hose bib and 25 feet of hose. The lines to get water, at times, created a long wait. Some people had 500-gallon water tanks mounted on trailers, while others used 5-gallon water cans.
The Owners Association obtained a 1947 ton and a half truck, from the Denisons, on which was mounted a 1,000 gallon tank. The Callahans delivered water for 1 cent per gallon to those who had water tanks. In two years there were approximately 150 lots that had water tanks mounted on stands.
The Owners Association, sensing a need for a water district, began to circulate a petition to form a water improvement district. By 1972 water lines had been installed to each lot. It wasn’t too far after that that water began flowing to each lot.
The dump originally was in an old assessment hole on lot 38N. It soon filled up and could no longer be used. The only land acceptable to the County for a landfill was at the old mill site, which was owned by Ted Wheeler. To help solve the garbage situation, Ted Wheeler donated the use of the old mill site to be used as a landfill, which was used for several years. Then it was decided by Coconino County that the landfill was too close to one of our water wells. The County requested permission to install and operate a compactor, and an agreement has been made for this operation. As the compactor filled, all the trash and garbage would be hauled off to the Lone Pine landfill northwest of Show Low.
With all of the people coming up on weekends and during the summers, along came fires, accidents, heart attacks, etc. The nearest hospitals were in Show Low and Payson. Ambulances were available at both locations, but it took 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours to get them here.
It seemed that most of the fires would start up on Sunday nights after all the people went back “down the hill”. The old 1947 Chevy water truck was the only water we had for fighting fires. The old truck, with help from almost everyone here, put out a lot of fires and prevented many major catastrophes. None of the lots had been cleaned up so there was a considerable amount of fuel for the fires to go racing off into the forest.
It got to where there were so many accidents with chain saws and people falling off roofs that when we got the people to the hospitals, they would say, “another one from Accident Acres I”. There were and still are a lot of heart attacks mostly from over exertion and people not used to our high altitude of 7600’.
In 1974, a petition was circulated to form a Fire Improvement District. The first several years there was not much tax money coming in. The Owners Association obtained an old military 6 x 6 from the County Civil Defense and paid $13,000 to have it converted to a fire truck. The truck had a front mount 500 gallon per minute pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank on it. An old ambulance was bought with tax money and donations and refurbished. The fire department had about a dozen people trained as E.M.T.s.
The community has continued to prosper and expand its services. This positive action did not come gratis. Good leaders were selected and they continue to serve with the cooperation of the citizens of the area. Despite minor opposition (which is to be expected in any venture of this magnitude) the character of the people will prevail.