News and Information
for residents and visitors
Three Rivers,
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks,
Lemon Cove and Woodlake
Kaweah Kam


In the News - Friday, JANUARY 4, 2008

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


In the print edition only:



Annual year-end review in photos

of the amazing people

who made news in Kaweah Country




Looking back on 2007

in Kaweah Country

  This is part two of a three-part series. The December 28 issue featured January through March; this week covers April to June. The final installment will appear next week (January 11).

APRIL 2007
   April 6— Curtis Morgan, 52, formerly of Three Rivers and now a resident of Exeter, lost his footing while looking for a fishing spot near the Oak Grove Bridge. He tumbled down an 80-foot embankment into a rock-lined pool.
   Although he was seriously injured, Morgan was able to pull himself out of the water. Deputy Jim Fansett, who happened to be investigating a burglary in the area, arrived just after the mishap occurred and coordinated the rescue.
   THE LOCAL LIONS announced plans to honor a host of Three Rivers people who serve as team members of the Hospice of Tulare County. The annual recognition ceremony serves as the kickoff for Jazzaffair. The 2007 honorees are: Vera Brochini, Mary Cabello, Judy Fiscus, Janne Harlow, Martha Kalivas, Charlene Natoli, Carol Nickel, Pam Smera, Paul and Nancy Smith, and Virpi Takala.
   ON SUNDAY, APRIL 1, sales tax in Tulare County was increased by a half-cent to 7.75 percent as a result of Measure R. The additional monies generated will be used for transportation improvements.
   April 13— A throng of jazz fans converged on Three Rivers for the 34th annual Jazzaffair. The three-day festival, hosted by High Sierra Jazz Band, featured eight other bands at three venues around Three Rivers.
   Tom Hook, a popular artist from the New Orleans scene, returned for an encore visit to Three Rivers while the Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band from the Pacific Northwest made their Jazzaffair debut.
   THE BLM ENDED the fee collection program for the North Fork recreation sites that was instituted in 2004. A BLM spokesperson said that the current budget directed the law enforcement resources be used elsewhere.
   April 20— Due largely to a cooperating mild winter, the current phase of the Generals Highway reconstruction in Sequoia National Park was on schedule and more than 50 percent complete. The roadwork, which began in 2006, was occurring on a stretch of the park’s highway between Big Fern Springs and Amphitheater Point.
   SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES PAID a visit to a Blossom Drive residence and discovered an indoor pot garden with 202 plants ranging in height from a few inches to more than four feet tall. If the plants had reached full maturity, the processed crop could have an estimated street value of more than $800,000.
   SPRING HAS SPRUNG with temperatures in the 80s and that always means a spike in bear activity. According to the park’s wildlife biologist, Rachel Mazur, the dry year in the foothills will mean that bears from the higher elevations will be visiting Three Rivers more frequently in search of alternative food sources.
   April 27— After a couple of anxious days in the backcountry, Todd Rose, 39, of Los Osos was located near the Sequoia Lakes Trail by Chris Miles, the caretaker of the Pear Lake Ski Hut. Rose had taken a skiing tumble off-trail and although he had been injured the previous day, he was able to survive a frigid night until Miles heard his cries for help.
   SIDNEY GREENBUSH, 36, of Visalia, and a former child-star who played Carrie on the TV series Little House on the Prairie, told the Commonwealth that she would be making an appearance at the Three Rivers Roping.

  “We are really looking forward to our first Three Rivers Roping and meeting all the ropers and fans,” said Sydney. “Our store is stocked with all the latest western wear so c’mon by our booth and say howdy.”

MAY 2007
   May 4— Effective Thursday, May 24, just prior to the busy holiday weekend, the BLM announced the agency would close the North Fork recreation sites.

  “We’ll be conducting meetings sometime this summer to seek public input on what should be done with the management of these sites,” said Steve Larson, assistant field manager with the BLM regional office in Bakersfield.
   Citing public safety, parking, and sanitation issues, Larson said it just wasn’t feasible to manage the popular river access sites in the upcoming summer season. The last straw, he said, was when the fee collection box was vandalized.
   THE STATE DEPARTMENT of Water Resources announced that the May 1 final snow totals were below projections for the season with a water content of 29 percent of normal, which translated to less runoff for the Kaweah drainage. As of May 3, the storage at Lake Kaweah was 91,632 acre feet or slightly less than one-half of capacity.
   Rescuers were called to the East Fork again, this time to rescue a stranded 28-year-old female who entered the water to help save her boyfriend. The male companion got out of the water and was able to climb out to safety but had to summon help to rescue the woman stuck on a rock with no way out.
   May 11— On May 3, Stan McDowall, a longtime local resident, was sentenced to five years, four months in prison and was taken into custody. McDowall, who acted as his own attorney in the burglary case, could still file an appeal but was referred to the Department of Corrections for an evaluation to determine where he would he would serve his sentence.
   SEQUOIA PARK RANGERS made their first major pot raid of the season, taking out a growing complex in the Marble Fork drainage. In steep, isolated terrain, rangers eradicated 17,300 plants and a nursery capable of producing a whole lot more.
   One suspect was arrested outside the park, and he was believed to be connected to another suspect who was also taken into custody. Since 2001, more than 141,000 plants had been eradicated within the boundaries of the local national parks.
   THE PRICE OF a first-class stamp was raised from 39 to 41 cents on May 14. The 41 cents was actually a penny less than the postal service had requested.
   May 18— A new Three Rivers playground, dubbed “Our Place,” was officially dedicated on May 11.
   It took a lot of advocacy, planning, and donated labor and services on the part of Three Rivers residents to match the $50,000 First Five grant. Once local moms Maria Howell and Elizabeth Van Mantgem had a concept and a project, they found the help to make it happen.
   The site is owned by the County of Tulare but is maintained under a lease agreement with the Three Rivers Community Services District. The grant money was made available from a tobacco mitigation fund.
   DETAILS OF THE new park shuttle were revealed at the Three Rivers Town Hall meeting of May 14. The Visalia to Giant Forest shuttle service via Three Rivers was set to begin operations on May 23.
   A WOODLAKE TEENAGER reported that she was assaulted by a Visalia man in the Lemon Hill parking area. She told investigating officers that she had arranged to meet the suspect after chatting with him on, a popular website where teens post personal information.
   May 25— Sequoia Sightseeing Tours, a family-owned tour company operating in Three Rivers since 2001, announced plans to convert their new vehicle to bio-diesel.

  “With all the publicity about the start-up of the new park shuttle in Giant Forest, we wanted our clientele to be aware that our niche is changing,” said Paul Bischoff, who with his wife, Becky, own and operate the company. “We are expanding our specialized tours to include a park-to-park package to Kings Canyon and do our part for the environment too.”
   TWO MEXICAN NATIONALS, a 27-year-old man and a 19-year-old man, were indicted in connection with illegal pot growing in Sequoia National Park. Both men were charged with multiple conspiracy charges to manufacture, possess, and distribute marijuana in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Fresno.

JUNE 2007
   June 1— A wildfire in the vicinity of Lake Kaweah was determined to be arson-caused. The “Horse Fire,” so-named for its proximity to the Horse Creek area, was ignited on Memorial Day and charred 418 acres on the west-facing slopes of Tharp’s Peak. In total, 520 personnel assisted in dousing the blaze.
   THIS FIRST NEWSPAPER issue in June is traditionally devoted to highlighting Woodlake High School’s graduating seniors, who in 2007 received more than $400,000 in scholarships.
   THE JUNE TOWN Hall meeting agenda included information on Measure R, a voter-approved sales tax increase that would provide funds for Tulare County road projects. Sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation and organized by Tom Sparks, Foundation president, the meeting informed Three Rivers residents on how best to ensure the local area received its share of the revenue.
   June 8— It’s always a crapshoot to guess when the Lake Kaweah reservoir will reach its highest fill level each year. It’s usually around June 1. In 2007, peak storage was reached at midnight on June 5. Thus, began its downward trend as the outflow began to exceed the lake’s inflow.
   ALTHOUGH IT WAS a mild winter with a snowpack well below normal, late-season snow in the high country and snowmelt in the foothills posed dangers for unsuspecting visitors, as these hazards do every year. A woman waded into the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River near Hospital Rock and was immediately swept more than 100 feet downstream through a series of rapids, but escaped with her life as several bystanders pulled her to safety.
   A three-day backpack trip for a couple in Sequoia became extended as they encountered an impassable snowfield and took an 18-mile detour instead. The delayed return caused worried family members to contact the Park Service, which began a search. The pair was found a day later by searchers, safe and sound and just two miles from their planned trailhead. The next day (May 30), Ash Mountain rangers assisted a Visalia man who had fallen into the rapids near park headquarters.
   THREE RIVERS BED and Breakfast announced that it would open its swimming pool to the public one day a week.

  “The thought of living in a little town with no municipal pool drives me crazy!” said Leah Catherine Launey, who owns the lodging facility with her husband, Peter Sodhy.
   THE TRUS CLASS of 2007 was featured following their eighth-grade graduation ceremony. They would now be heading down the hill for their high school years. In addition, six Three Rivers students graduated from Exeter High.
   June 15— A careless smoker caused a wildland fire to ignite some riverfront vegetation along Kaweah River Drive. A fisherman had placed a lighted cigarette on a log, which then ignited some duff and dead brush. The fire was contained within three hours by Cal Fire and Tulare County firefighters.
   THREE RIVERS DRIVERS were involved in three separate incidents on Highway 198, none of which caused serious injuries.
   A POT-GROWING operation was eradicated in steep terrain near the intersection of Mineral King Road and the Oriole Lake/Milk Ranch cutoff. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department’s STEP team raided the garden, located on Bureau of Land Management Land. Nearly 30,000 marijuana plants were confiscated from the garden and a nearby plant nursery that was discovered during the raid.
   ERIC BLEHM, AUTHOR of The Last Season — a nonfiction account of the disappearance of backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson in Kings Canyon National Park — was the guest of honor at a local book club gathering, which was timely as the members were reading the book. Eric was in the area to conduct research on his latest project.


Brrr-aving cold water

Polar Bear Dip now 3R tradition

   They do it in Wisconsin and Minnesota in subzero temperatures; they do it in the chilly Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay when they jump in ice-cold water on New Year’s Day.
   And now, since the first “Polar Dip” on Jan. 1, 2002, they do it in the chilly waters of the Kaweah River. And the annual event at the Gateway Restaurant has become a huge sensation.
   For the 2008 event, now called the “Polar Bear Dip,” a few dozen revelers took the plunge while the biggest crowd ever cheered them on.
   One polar dipper said she heard about the event on KJUG radio while she was en route. The popular Tulare County country radio station beamed a couple hours of live programming from the Gateway and also managed to attract some flatlanders to make the trek up from the fog-shrouded Valley to continue their own New Year’s party.
   For the dippers, this year’s immersion was downright pleasant in comparison to some previous years. By high noon, when most of the dippers were assembled, the day was sunny with no wind, mostly cloudless, and the temperature was 65 degrees.
   The water temperature in the picturesque pools hovered around 40 degrees. Cold, yes, but it could be colder… and swifter. In fact, kayak spotters, strategically positioned downstream, have been utilized in the past.
   The Gateway, however, was packed with many hearty souls willing to take the plunge and even more folks just making merry and celebrating 2008.

  “It’s been great for our New Year’s Day business,” said Karen McIntyre, who with her husband, Glenn, owns The Gateway Restaurant and Lodge. “We’re finding that many of our New Year’s Eve guests are staying over for the party the next day.”
   That party, of course, is built around the local polar dip tradition that began humbly seven years ago when five brave souls entered the chilly waters below the Gateway Restaurant. The first dip was organized by Marcos Guzman, then the owner of Whitewater Contemporary Arts and Crafts and avid river swimmer.
   Guzman saw the dip as a bold way to shake off the effects that might still be lingering from the previous night’s celebration. After that first New Year’s Day dip, he called the experience a spiritual renewal. Marcos, who in 2004 moved back to the Central Coast, was joined in that inaugural dip by Petit Pinson, Anthony Pinson, Aaron Root, and Mark McMahon.

  “When the word gets out how much fun this is, we’ll have more and more folks joining in each year,” Guzman said.
   Those words proved prophetic. And although jumping in the Kaweah River is a far cry from taking an arctic plunge, somewhere along the way, the Polar Bear Dip became a fun-filled family event and Three Rivers’s newest annual event that is a great way to ring in the New Year... and keep the party going just a little longer.


Measure C to provide

WHS improvements

   There’s Obama and Chelsea’s mama; there’s Edwards, Huckabee, McCain and Mitt, but perhaps of more immediacy for local voters on Tuesday, Feb. 5, is Measure C. That’s Woodlake High School’s latest bond issue, which is on next month’s ballot during the state’s earliest ever Presidential Primary Election.
   In the hopes and dreams of the Woodlake High boosters, there’s no time like right now to complete some urgently needed projects that will have a big impact on the future of local youth.
   If the measure can muster the 55 percent necessary to pass the $4.5 million general obligation bond, each property in the school district will be assessed $30 per $100,000 valuation for no more than 40 years. That adds up to mere pennies a day for property owners within the Woodlake High School District, which consists of the communities of Three Rivers, Woodlake, and Seville and the rural areas in between.
   Passage of Measure C will fund new classrooms, new restroom facilities, football stadium improvements including a new all-weather track, Performing Arts Building renovation, additional tennis courts, and baseball/softball complex improvements.
   Need accountability to ensure the money is spent properly? The measure has some built-in checks and balances like a citizen’s oversight committee to ensure the dollars are being spent only on the specific projects. There is also a cap on the assessed valuation that can’t be raised for the life of the bond’s obligation.
   It’s no secret that Woodlake High is among the top schools in the Valley helping students access a college education. These proposed capital improvements, according to the measure’s boosters, will ensure that trend continues and, according to the school’s mission statement, keep Woodlake a place where every student has the power to succeed.
   The last day to register to vote in the February election is Tuesday, Jan. 22. To vote by mail, an application must be received by the Tulare County Registrar of Voters no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
   For more information about Measure C, call Tim Hire, superintendent of Woodlake Schools, at 564-8081.


Design selected for

Three Rivers entrance sign

   After many months of work with members of the community, the Three Rivers Village Foundation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and some much-appreciated additional assistance from local artists and instructors, the Chamber has chosen a final Three Rivers entrance sign design, bringing to completion a project previously begun by the Chamber's predecessor.
   The current sign, located near the Slick Rock Recreation Area at the west entrance to Three Rivers, will be removed and reinstalled at the Three Rivers Historical Society Museum, located at 42268 Sierra Drive. The new colorful sign will be built and installed near Slick Rock in its place.
   Special thanks go to Dave King and his welding class at Visalia Adult School, whose design was not chosen, but whose work impressed the Chamber so much that they were asked if they would consider creating a permanent exhibit to be used at the Tulare County Fair. In addition, there was a general discussion that the design submitted by Dave and his class, made out of metal, would also make a beautiful sculpture/water feature for some future visitor center.
   In the meantime, local signmaker A.W. Clark has been asked to come up with an estimate for the cost of turning the winning design into an actual sign and installation.
   Much gratitude also to David Learned Jr. of Century 21 Three Rivers for agreeing ahead of time, to absorb the bulk of the cost of production. As things look currently, the new entrance sign could be installed as early as January or February of 2008.

Walter Foreman
1908 ~ 2007

   Walter Foreman, a longtime resident of Lemon Cove, died Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007. He turned 99 last September.
   A memorial service will be held Monday, Jan. 7, beginning at 10 a.m., at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 420 Sequoia Dr., Exeter.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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