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In the News - Friday, January 25, 2013




2012 in Review:

July ~ December

Compiled by


Part Two

See Part One in the January 18, 2013, issue

  OVER THE PAST MONTH, 2012 has been looked at through photos and text. This is the last installment of the four-week-long feature. In a community where rivers run through it, snowmelt fills the downstream reservoir, and the outdoor recreation of the day — from skiing to swimming to hiking to whitewater rafting — is dependent on the daily forecast and water flow, the weather more often than not is one of the front-page stories.
   LAST WINTER THE NEWS was the spring-like conditions. When summer sizzles in Kaweah Country, so do the coffers of local businesses that cater to visitors from all over the planet. In 2012, summer-like weather persisted well into October and was a key factor in extending the tourist season well into autumn. And here is what else was happening during 2012:

JULY 2012
   July 6— Tom Burge, head of the cultural resources program at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, officially retired after 31 years of federal service. Burge started his career with the U.S. Forest Service in 1980 as the forest archaeologist in Oregon and Missouri, and then transferred to the National Park Service in 1992. He became the local parks’ archaeologist in 1994.
   Two people were killed in a car accident along Highway 180 when driver Stephanie Alexandra Soza, 24, of Selma failed to keep the 2003 Ford Mustang she was driving on the roadway and the car went over a steep embankment. Zachrey Bardone, 19, of Badger and Joshua Paramore, 21, of Philadelphia died while fellow passenger Kristina Rodriguez, 22, of Fresno and the driver survived.
   Woodlake Unified School District began finalizing the search for a replacement superintendent after Tim Hire’s relocation to Exeter Union School District. Tony Casares, director of alternative education at Bravo Lake High School, acted as the interim supervisor of district business.
   July 13— The student enrollment at Three Rivers Union School for the 2012-2013 school year continued to drop, and was only 40 percent of the total enrollment of 10 years ago. The school’s revenue limit is directly correlated with daily attendance, and as a result, the school expenditures surpassed total unrestricted revenue by more than $52,000. In order to cope with potential closure of the school, TRUS announced that a parcel tax measure would be placed on the November ballot.
   Christy Wood, horse show judge, competitor, and owner of Wood ‘N’ Horse Training Stables in Three Rivers, and her horse Blue Suede Dude, continued to make waves in the horse show world. At their most recent show at City of Industry, two of the three saddles offered to the winners went to Wood and Dude.
   Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park was temporarily closed when cave manager Katie Wightman discovered suspicious wiring during a routine lighting check. In the past, historic dynamite blasting materials have been found in the cave so Wightman closed the attraction until the wiring could be investigated. The wires were not attached to anything and were likely used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.
   July 20— The St. Anthony Retreat Center opened its new Santa Teresita Youth Conference Center despite many of the facilities remaining unfinished. The 25-acre retreat property will include dorm accommodations, an assembly room, meeting rooms, a large craft room, a pool, a recreation room, sports field and courts, and nature trails.
   The new Sequoia Outdoor Sports retailer acquired a park permit that would allow them to begin their guided tours into Sequoia National Park. Sequoia Outdoor Sports will offer four-hour day hikes, all-day hikes, and overnight hikes. They will also do snowshoe treks when weather permits.
   Sierra Elementary School in Badger permanently closed its doors on June 30. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school closed due to declining enrollment; the total enrollment for 2011-2012 was 30 students. The enrollment has been in steady decline, dropping regularly from 140 students in the 1990s.
   July 27— A Silver City Mountain Resort rental cabin was destroyed by a fire on July 22 when flames spread from an adjacent campfire and engulfed the structure. The two guests inside, Steve and Wendy Jones from Seal Beach, narrowly escaped by crawling out of the windows. Steve suffered smoke inhalation, but neither was taken to a hospital.
   The body of 31-year-old Thomas Heng was found by searchers on July 25 after he departed on a day hike to the summit of Mount Langley on July 22. He was reportedly last seen at 1 p.m. that day at 13,000 feet elevation and was reported missing the following day.
   On July 24, the Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel unit of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department raided a property on South Fork Drive suspected of being a safe house, or an intermediary structure, for a larger network of marijuana growers, suppliers, traffickers, and businessmen. Neighbors reported that at least two arrests were made and Child Protective Services took two children into custody.

   August 3— The 14th annual Best of Kaweah Country revealed the top voted restaurants, shops, lodging, recreation, and more that Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, Woodlake, Sequoia National Park, and Lake Kaweah have to offer. The nearby natural areas took many awards, including Best Place to Take the Kids and Best Place to Take Out-of-Town Guests (Sequoia National Park), the Best Hiking Trail (Pear Lake), the Best National Park Attraction (General Sherman Tree), and Best Way to Tour Without Using your Car (Bicycle).
   The BLM’s Salt Creek trail and single-track was voted Best Bike Ride two years in a row. David Page wrote about the mountain-biking experience in Three Rivers in Outside magazine, a portion of which was excerpted where he described the area: “The entire complex comprises about 14,000 acres, rising from 1,200 feet of elevation at the gate, through a series of oak and chaparral ecosystems to six distinct sequoia groves…”
   August 10— Woodlake Union High School broke ground on a new football field, track, and stadium, funded by a $4.5 million facility-renovation bond.
   Since the announcement that Three Rivers Union School would be placing a parcel tax measure on the November ballot, the Commonwealth was inundated with letters for and against the measure.
   Three recent car accidents had one thing in common: alcohol. On July 30, Guillermo Villareal of Tulare hit a road sign at a high rate of speed at the curve a quarter-mile from the intersection with Highway 198 on North Fork Drive. On August 2, Tyler Jacobus of Exeter crashed into boulders on the side of the roadway while heading west near Salt Creek Bridge.  Billie Molaison of Visalia attempted to make a U-turn on Highway 198 in Lemon Cove and collided with a 1967 Mustang. All were arrested for DUI; Molaison was arrested for felony DUI as there were injuries involved.
   August 17— A fire was stopped at two acres between 41960 and 42000 North Fork Drive on August 14. The fire was contained within 20 minutes, and a bulldozer and the Mountain Home hand crew remained for several hours to watch for active embers.
David Learned, who was raised in Three Rivers, abandoned the Century 21 franchise started by his father more than 20 years ago to begin the locally owned, full-service company, Sierra Real Estate.
   Woodlake Unified School District hired its first superintendent on August 16. Drew Sorensen, former Woodlake High School principal (1997-2001), returned to Woodlake with 32 years of experience in education and the ultimate goal of improving academic achievement. Other new faces on the high school campus were six new teachers: Catharine Darr, Mike Burchett, Omar Garza, Dominique Biello, Celina Martinez, and Codee Bontrager.
   August 24— Another fire on North Fork Drive set a chicken coop ablaze on August 16. Jeremy Railton, the owner of the property, had a remote camera at the site and, having recorded footage of a large black bear attempting to gain entry to the coop, speculated that the bear caused the spark shorted from an electrical enclosure that was responsible for the fire.
   John Zapalac, Woodlake police chief of 13 years, retired from his position on August 20. The sudden retirement came after months of dispute between his officers and city council members over budget-related issues, including fuel costs for the Camp Zap bus. During his time as chief, Zapalac restarted the department’s Explorer Program and founded Camp Zap, a weekend retreat for Woodlake youth and at-risk kids that has hosted more than 7,000 children since 1999.
   Three Rivers Union School alumnus Isaac Warner returned to Three Rivers with his wife and young son to teach in his hometown. His new post as the fourth-fifth-grade teacher would allow him to work alongside his mother, Linda Warner, who also teaches at TRUS.
   August 31— Bureau of Land Management properties on the North Fork of the Kaweah River, including Advance, Cherry Falls, Paradise, and other popular recreational areas that were closed in 2007 may now stay closed permanently due to lack of funding.
   The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on August 28 to approve the Tulare County General Plan Update 2030. The plan is crucial to address how the county will proceed in growth and development. Critics of the plan at the public hearing sessions voiced concerns that it was too vague.
   Tulare County Gang Prevention Task Force’s Step Up program saved Woodlake Union High School’s Homecoming this year by sponsoring the event as a community-wide celebration at Miller Brown Park. Homecoming was set to be cancelled due to the renovations being completed on the school’s football field and stadium that led to all football games being played on the opponents’ turf.

   September 7— Merced Police arrested Rey Martinez Lespier, aka Alex Hernandez, in Three Rivers on charges that he posed as an immigration lawyer and collected $3,000 in fees from at least a one client for services never rendered.
   The National Park Service honored Western Ecological Research Center scientist Nate Stephenson with the Director’s Natural Resource Research award for his research and long-term monitoring of western U.S. ecosystems.
   Three Rivers Union School’s parcel tax measure would appear as “Measure I” on the November ballot.
   September 14— Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks chief ranger Kevin Hendricks reported that marijuana cultivation in the parks had been unusually quiet this summer. Hendricks said that growers have changed tactics, raising their crops on private property in the foothills, which results in smaller, harder-to-detect plots.
   Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Routh, singers and songwriting duo, released a new CD paying homage to the San Joaquin Valley called Dreams of the San Joaquin. The two have been frequent visitors of Lake Elowin Resort in Three Rivers since 1977.
   September 21— Southern California Edison announced that they would begin installing SmartConnect electric meters in Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, and Woodlake as early as the first week of October. The new meters are two-way communicating devices that transform the entire system into a smart grid.
   A fire was started in the Evolution Valley area of Kings Canyon National Park when backpackers attempted to burn toilet paper and a gust of wind spread the burning fuel to the dry underbrush nearby. A crew of five National Park Service firefighters was airlifted to the remote area to contain the blaze, which consumed a quarter of an acre.
   Twilight Park in Woodlake was featured for their up-and-coming reputation as an outdoor venue in the San Joaquin Valley. The 10,000-person venue boasts a versatile productivity, hosting car shows, music shows, and fight nights. Twilight is owned by parent company U.S. Tower Corporation.
   September 28— Despite the outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome occurring in Yosemite National Park during the summer, public health sanitarian for Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks Paul Schwarz said that no cases were expected in the local parks.
The impending arrival of Three Rivers “Smart Meters” caused cries of concern by Three Rivers residents. Complaints generally center on health effects, the intrusion of privacy, and false promises of economical value.
   Woodlake Unified School District welcomed Glenn Billington, former principal of Fremont Elementary School, as their new assistant superintendent.

   October 5— The Lemon Cove Post Office hired Stella Ryland as their new postmaster following the retirement of former postmaster Janet King of Three Rivers.
Health concerns remained for Smart Meters and became the main topic at the October 1 Three Rivers Town Meeting. Sothern California Edison’s regional general manager Bill DeLain took the opportunity at the meeting to reassure the public that the SmartConnect meters showed no connection to health risks, however, complaints from urban centers repeatedly claim that the ambient radiation generated by the digital meters continue to cause adverse effects.
   Kaweah Delta Medical Center broke ground on their new helipad on October 2. The fundraising campaign managed to raise nearly $2 million for the project, and the construction of the helipad is expected to be completed by April 2013. The Three Rivers campaign raised an additional $40,000 to help meet the final goal.
   October 12— President Barack Obama dedicated the former home of Cesar Chavez at Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz as a national monument on October 8. The move memorializes Chavez’s crucial role as activist and civil servant in the struggle for civil rights for countless farmworkers and laborers in the Central Valley and beyond.
   The two candidates vying for the newly drawn 23rd District of the California Assembly vacancy, Jim Patterson and Bob Whalen, attended the October 1 town meeting to introduce themselves to Three Rivers constituents. Both are Republicans, a result of the new top-two primary system in California.
   October 19— Joe “the Drummer” Parisi received a noise violation citation and a court date three weeks ago when Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies received a complaint from a local resident. The event triggered a swell of community support, including the circulation of a petition urging the charges against Parisi dropped.
   Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks opened a public comment period for their Wilderness Stewardship Plan. The plan will address topics such as campfires, food storage, pack stock and grazing, waste management, trails, and campsites. The input will be taken into consideration in formatting the preliminary draft alternatives for the Wilderness Stewardship Plan.
   Chase Hauber of Three Rivers and a junior at Woodlake High School was accepted into the World Class Kayaking Academy based in Trout Lake, Wash. As an Academy student, Hauber would spend a semester learning typical high school curriculum along with “On Water Training,” traveling to British Columbia and Nepal for kayaking trips.
   October 26— Philip Woods, 17, of Three Rivers crashed his 1994 Toyota Tacoma pickup on Sierra Drive when he lost control of his vehicle while attempting to adjust the radio. He was uninjured. Timothy Garner, 36, also of Three Rivers, was driving a 1991 Toyota Camry that collided with the guardrail as he approached Horse Creek. The vehicle came to rest 30 feet below the roadway.
   Experienced backpacker Larry Conn, 53, was reported missing when he failed to return from a late-season backpacking trip over Taboose Pass near the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. It was believed that the lawyer from Pacific Palisades was caught in a snowstorm that passed through the area.
   Academic Performance Index scores indicated that Three Rivers Union School was one of the county’s top five schools. In 2011, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school met a statewide ranking of 8 out of 10, meaning that it is in the state’s top 20 percent of elementary schools. Over the past five years, TRUS has continually exceeded its base score of 800.

   November 2— Actress Aly Michalka, known for her role on the Disney Channel series Phil of the Future and in movies, came to Three Rivers to film her next celluloid project. Her new film, currently untitled, will star Michalka and Dustin Milligan as two adolescents struggling with a life of hard knocks. Local residents were used as extras in the film.
   Six ground teams from Inyo County’s Search and Rescue had yet to come up with any clues regarding missing backpacker Larry Conn. Inclement weather suspended the aerial search.
   November 9— Local voters failed to pass Three Rivers Union School’s parcel tax, Measure I. The measure needed a two-thirds majority vote. President Barack Obama was reelected.
   The search for Larry Conn, the experienced backpacker who was last seen on October 19, was called off as search teams had found no evidence of Conn or his whereabouts.
The Woodlake High School Pep Squad was the top honoree and recipient of the Provident-Salierno Family Foundation Character Counts award for the Pillar of Citizenship for their upstanding support of Gabby Medina, a special-needs student on their cheer team. They received $500 in prize money.
   November 16— The Three Rivers Town Hall meeting featured a presentation by Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks superintendent Karent Taylor-Goodrich, environmental protection specialist Nancy Hendricks, and wilderness coordinator Gregg Fauth about the parks’ Wilderness Stewardship Plan. The presentation was the fifth to be given around the state of California in an effort to receive public input on the plan.
   November 23— Improvements to Kaweah Powerhouse No. 3 were underway, as evidenced by the constant hum of helicopters flying to and from the site delivering concrete for the relining of the forebay. The lined forebay, a large pool at the end of the flume used to store water, holds 11 acre-feet. It was built in 1912 and has been relined twice since. An estimated 2,000 loads of concrete, delivered by helicopter in half-yard buckets, would be needed to complete the project.
   Judy Dovel, 66, of Three Rivers was arrested November 18 on charges of elder dependent abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, and infliction of great bodily injury. Dovel was held on $35,000 bail at Bob Wiley Detention Center.
   The City of Woodlake completed phase one of its new wastewater treatment facility and celebrated with a grand opening on November 15. The state-of-the-art plant replaces the previous 50-year-old percolation and reclamation ponds with a five-step process for wastewater treatment. It would increase the city’s capacity for wastewater intake to 1.3 million gallons per day and provide a far more efficient water treatment process, thereby allowing Woodlake to plan for industrial and residential growth.
   November 30— The third annual Kaweah Country Run hosted 117 runners and walkers at Lake Kaweah’s Slick Rock Recreation area on November 24, and new to the event was a 5K run. Pylyp Yukov, 20, of Three Rivers placed first in that race, while Sarah Schachter, 31, of Three Rivers took first place in the 5K walk for the second consecutive year. In the 10K run, 2011 champ Seth Lagerhausen, 28, of Visalia knocked a minute off of his previous win’s time at 35:55.
   Compared to last winter, this year’s chilly season promised to be far wetter as a second system passed through Kaweah Country bringing rain and snow. In 2011, hardly a drop of rain fell in Three Rivers and it was one of the driest Decembers ever recorded.
   The President Tree in Sequoia National Park was featured on the cover of December’s National Geographic for David Quammen and Michael Nichols’s report of Sequoia National Park’s giant sequoias. The article documented the events as Steve Sillett of Humboldt State University and his team of scientists measured and studied the Big Trees. Sillett has climbed many of the world’s tallest trees, and this latest climb resulted in shifting the order of the largest sequoias by moving the President Tree up in the ranks to number two behind only the  General Sherman Tree. The local Park Service would later recognize the finding, but announced it would continue to measure the Big Trees using only trunk volume, rather than including branches as Sillett’s calculations had, when measuring for size comparison. Using this method, the General Grant Tree remains the second largest tree on the planet.

   December 7— The Tulare County Elections Department finally tallied the remaining provisional ballots, revealing that Three Rivers Union School’s Measure I parcel tax received a total of 63.82 percent of the vote – about 100 votes shy of passing.
   Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks officials announced that they had completed an environmental assessment for the next phase of Generals Highway construction, which would comprise seven miles of the highway from Deer Ridge to Wolverton junction, set to begin in 2014.
   Judy Dovel, who was arrested on November 18 on several felony counts related to elderly abuse, was released from custody after her November 30 court appearance.
   December 14— The Three Rivers Historical Society completed the $72,000 purchase of the Bequette house and adjacent 2.5 acres of land immediately adjacent to the Historical Society’s museum on Sierra Drive. Bruce and Jessie Bequette built the home in the 1920s; Jessie was the granddaughter of the first civilian superintendent of Sequoia National Park, Walter Fry.
   Replacing John Zapalac as the City of Woodlake’s new chief of police was Mike Marquez, 35, a lieutenant at the Farmersville Police Department. Marquez is a 1995 Woodlake High School graduate and worked at the Farmersville agency since 1997.
   During the 87th annual Nation’s Christmas Tree Ceremony, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks rangers placed a wreath at the base of the General Grant Tree in honor of those who gave their lives fighting for this country. The General Grant is the only living National Shrine and was designated as the Nation’s Christmas Tree by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
   December 21— In a surprising turn of events, and contrary to the prognostication of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of professional soothsayers, the world did not end on Friday, Dec. 21.
   From December 23 through January 1, there were no road construction delays on the Generals Highway, the first time this has occurred since May 2010. Two lanes were open on the newly reconstructed segment of the highway above Amphitheater Point. Utilities construction on the roadway in Giant Forest had also been suspended for the winter season.
   The December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., marked the 31st school shooting in the U.S. since the 1999 massacre at Columbine, according to ABC News. It was the 14th (and most deadly) mass shooting in the U.S. during 2012.
   December 28— Christmas Eve brought tragedy for Lemon Cove residents Christine and Laurabelle Burns, formerly of Three Rivers, when a fire ravaged their home. By the time firefighters had arrived, the structure was 50 percent engulfed and the roof had collapsed.
   Drew Sorensen, superintendent of the Woodlake Unified School District, met with the district’s seven principals on December 19 to discuss school safety in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Sorensen said that the schools have a good safety policy in currently in place, which includes signs at each site stating that visitors must check in at the office as well as an expectation that teachers will report any suspicious persons on campus.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
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