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Kaweah Kam

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In the News - Friday, FEBRUARY 10, 2006

Antique mailbox stolen

from Kaweah Post Office

   In this day and age, if it’s not nailed down — or even if it is — somebody, somewhere, is going to take it.
   Recently, a thief removed the antique mail drop-box from the Kaweah Post Office that was affixed to the front of the historic post office. The receptacle was still utilized, and there was reportedly some outgoing mail in the box.
   The theft occurred sometime after closing on Wednesday, Feb.1, at 3 p.m. and the next day when the postmaster, Virpi Takala, arrived at noon to reopen the contract postal station.
   Nobody seems to know for sure how long the highly visible blue drop box with white lettering has been located on the front wall at the entrance to the structure.

  “So far, none of our customers can remember when the box was installed or how old this type might be,” said Virpi. “I checked with Lori [Ontiveros], the Three Rivers postmaster, and that box is no longer available.”
   Owing to the historical significance of the quaint post office, which has been operating at its present site since 1910 and is quite possibly the smallest one still in operation in the U.S., it is important that the drop-box be returned. Internet sleuths are currently scouring cyberspace to see if it might show up for sale on resale sites like eBay.
   The antique mailbox is estimated to be worth $400, and tampering with the mail is a federal offense. At least one patron has reported that they had placed a money order in the outgoing mailbox just before the receptacle was removed.
   Anyone with information about the heist should contact the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, 733-6218, or Virpi at the Kaweah Post Office, 561-4745.

Frozen Sierra

airman identified

   The body of a World War II airman recovered in October from a receding glacier on the slopes of 13,710-foot Mount Mendel has been identified, according to a report and interview with relatives broadcast on CNN this week.
   The frozen remains of the man were discovered Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005, by ice climbers in this remote portion of Kings Canyon National Park. The body was recovered by park rangers and a forensic anthropologist and, on October 24, was flown to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, where scientists at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) began the tedious process of identifying the man.
   The victim was believed to have been one of four airmen who were on a training mission from Sacramento’s Mather Field on November 18, 1942, en route to Tehama County when their plane went down. Until now, none of the members of the flight crew were ever found and no explanation has been offered as to why the plane was 200 miles off course.
   On board were the pilot, 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio; and Army Air Corps cadets Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.; John Mortensen, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; and Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairesville, Ohio.
   The recently-discovered airman is reportedly Mustonen, but JPAC has not yet confirmed that news.
   What JPAC is saying is that as of Monday, Feb. 6, they have completed the analysis of the remains and that “the Department of Defense will release the name of the individual once official notification to the family is completed.”
   The Commonwealth asked the local Park Service this week if there were any plans to return to the area and search for the additional bodies, but did not receive a response. According to the Mustonen family’s community newspaper, the Brainerd Dispatch, the National Park Service is considering the possibility of launching a search in the spring for the other members of Mustonen’s flight.
   When removed from his tomb of ice, the man was found to have dark blond hair and was wearing a green cable-knit sweater over green thermals with Air Corps insignia. Still strapped to his back was an unopened parachute stenciled with the words “U.S. Army Air Corps,” suggesting that Mustonen had died in the plane crash.

  “The injuries were so substantial, he didn’t feel anything,” said Dr. Robert Mann, a forensic anthropologist, to CNN. “He died immediately.”
   Other items recovered with Mustonen were a corroded nameplate, other clothing remnants, a broken plastic comb, three small leatherbound address books, and dimes dating from 1936 to 1942.
   According to news reports, Leo Mustonen’s mother never got over her son’s death. Both of Mustonen’s parents have since died, going to their graves without knowing the ultimate fate of their son.
   Mustonen graduated from Brainerd High School in 1938. He is survived by two nieces, the daughters of Mustonen’s older brother, Arvo, who is deceased.
   The family says that young Leo was fastidious, ambitious, a hard worker, and a good student. He was a member of his high school debate team and wanted to someday design aircraft.
   A headstone at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif., memorializes all four members of the ill-fated flight.
   The family is planning a memorial service at the community’s First Lutheran Church with a full military escort. The family had a choice of Arlington National Cemetery or anywhere else for a burial site, but Mustonen will be laid to rest next to his mother at the Evergreen Cemetery in Brainerd.

NPS returns to Hammond

after a 70-year absence

   Though the construction by the National Park Service at the Hammond Fire Station has lately looked more like demolition than rehabilitation, the careful dismantling of two key structures is really a crucial beginning. That’s because to retrofit the station’s buildings that date from 1938 (office/garage) and 1943 (barracks) in order to update them for modern use, each structural component (walls, floors, roofs) has to first be taken apart piece by piece.
   There is also a residence formerly used by the fire chief that dates from 1935 on the site, but it is not a part of the current project. The restoration of the two buildings is a meticulous process, said Dave Allen, district fire manager and NPS liaison for the project. But hopefully the new facilities will be ready in time for the rapidly approaching fire season.
   Once the former barracks and garage are remodeled, the Ash Mountain fire crew will have a new home away from headquarters but will be strategically placed to serve the foothills section of the park, Mineral King, and nearby Three Rivers. The $692,000 project was undertaken to relieve some of the congestion at Ash Mountain headquarters, especially during the summer season when employees have to scramble just to find a parking place.

  “This project is really part of Dick Martin’s legacy,” Allen said. “The search for just the right situation began just two weeks after Martin arrived in 2000.”
   Allen said Martin, the former superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, and his staff searched far and wide to find a site that could accommodate the Ash Mountain co-ed summer crew that at times during the fire season consists of nearly a dozen firefighters.

  “We looked all over the county and even in Visalia,” Allen said. “At one time, when there was talk of the various community groups using the former Three Rivers stations, we approached CDF about sharing quarters at the new station.”
   But Allen said there just wasn’t enough room to make it work at the new Three Rivers Station that was placed into service by California Department of Forestry (CDF) and officially dedicated in 2005. Several community groups including the volunteer patrol, the food pantry, and the Three Rivers Cemetery District under the auspices of the Community Services District (CSD) are now readying the former Three Rivers fire station on South Fork Drive as their new headquarters.
   Hammond became the obvious choice of the parks but it was Martin who secured the funding and the project design that would update the old station while preserving the historical significance leftover from the CDF’s tenure from 1936-2005.
   Adding a touch of irony, the site just outside of the park boundaries was initially developed in the 1930s by Sequoia National Park and its workers who were hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Once the initial buildings were completed, the NPS never actually used the fire facilities but turned the property over to the State of California for CDF use.
   During the initial phase of the retrofit, work crews peeled off layers of old material exposing the two structures from their roofs to the foundations. The adobe walls were then drilled with the circular core material being removed.
   The next step, Allen said, is to place steel rebar approximately one-inch in diameter in those holes that were painstakingly drilled. That process gives the buildings greater structural integrity and passes the muster of California’s strict seismic building code.
   Window, doors, flooring and roof materials are all being updated as a part of the restoration project. During the construction, Allen said workers have found two very different kinds of adobe brick material used in the site’s construction.
   One type is very crude matching the entries in superintendent’s reports of the period that relate that adobe bricks were made on-site by CCC workers. Bricks used in later construction contain a more sophisticated binding material suggesting that they were commercially manufactured.
   Allen also said that once the old barracks building was exposed, it was easy to see how it had been remodeled to change its original façade to the one that now exists. More research is needed but eventually the park hopes to have a definitive site history and maybe an interpretive display for visitors.

  “Our current deal with CDF is a 20-year lease,” Allen said. “After all the effort to make this project happen the NPS is already thinking about a permanent arrangement.”

Supervisors approve

Yokohl Valley request

   In the aftermath of Tuesday’s (Feb. 7) marathon Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Tulare County planners on Wednesday explained some points about the proposal that seeks to begin planning for the J.G. Boswell Company’s 36,000-acre ranch located east of Exeter. The remarks came as George Finney, assistant director of Long-Range Planning, and Theresa Szymanis, countywide planning manager, updated members of the Tulare County Planning Commission.

  “There was a lot of misinformation as to what really was approved at Tuesday’s meeting,” Finney said. “The approval only granted a request by Boswell Company representatives to prepare an application to seek a General Plan amendment.”
   That application, if approved, could pave the way for the Boswell consultants to begin the process of preparing documentation on a several-tiered master-planned community. The application for the General Plan amendment is expected to take several months, Finney said.
   Concurrently, Szymanis said, planners are preparing a new Tulare County General Plan that could be available in draft form by June. On Tuesday, at the Supervisor’s meeting, several Yokohl Valley project opponents spoke against the General Plan amendment and urged the county instead to include specific zoning for the development in the plan itself.
   Finney said that it is not realistic to expect the General Plan to address specific zoning requests.

  “We’ve got to build a firewall around these development proposals if we are going to proceed with the planning process,” Finney said. “If we address a specific zoning change, a lawsuit could hijack the entire General Plan.”
   Finney said the Boswell Company expects to face litigation over the Yokohl Valley master-planned development, the first of its size and scope to be proposed in Tulare County.

  “The current General Plan [1981] provides for new towns in the foothills,” Finney said. “The General Plan amendment places the burden of the project on the applicant, not on the county, and judges each proposal on its own merit.”
   County planners outlined the Yokohl Valley development scenario as a five-step process that could be completed in 20 to 30 years, including:

  —Amend the county zoning ordinance by adding a “planned community zone” that could be used anywhere in the foothills;

  —Amend the General Plan/Foothill Growth Management Plan to designate the Yokohl Valley Ranch as a “planned community area”;

  —Rezone the property to planned community;

  —Adopt a general plan/master plan that defines land-use density divided into specific planning areas; and

  —Adopt specific plans for land use areas.
   Steps one through three would complete the general plan amendment.
   Steps four and five are subsequent steps toward entitlements that could occur after the General Plan amendment.
   Questions may be directed to the Tulare County Resource Management Agency by calling 733-6291 or visiting the government center at 5961 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia.

The enemies and allies

in the war on weeds

   Three Rivers is under attack and has been for years. Few of us noticed.
   The enemy is not a foreign country, not a land-grabbing corporation, not the pot growers in the backcountry. This enemy is much more difficult to identify and much more difficult to defeat.
Three Rivers is being attacked by some of the most ruthless weeds on Earth.
   Once-beautiful places all over California have already been decimated. Places where grass and flowers once grew now grow a vast, thorny blight of thistle.
   You might be thinking, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.”
   It is. Noxious weeds have few natural enemies, nothing to slow their relentless capture of new territory.
   When they take over, ranchers lose terrain for grazing and we all lose the natural beauty that brought us here and keeps us here.
There are many non-native thistles and the worst of them is the yellow star thistle. For the inquisitive and the syllabically adept, yellow star thistle’s botanical name is Centaurea solstitialis.
   In this state alone, yellow star thistle has choked the indigenous life out of 15 million acres, rendering the land useless for grazing, natural habitat, or recreation. This virulent weed has now spread into Woodlake, Lemon Cove, and Three Rivers.
   It’s not alone. Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), and Arundo donax are attacking, too. These are the Big Four.
   Wherever these invaders take hold, little else thrives. Like the Martians in War of the Worlds, they leave ugliness in their wake. If not stopped, they’ll take over whole sections of our lovely community.
   Defeating these weeds won’t be easy: one large Yellow Star Thistle plant can produce 100,000 seeds and there are thousands of plants in Three Rivers.
   Italian thistle is already widespread, with millions of plants all over town.
   Thistle seeds survive up to seven years in the ground before sprouting. When they do sprout, they out-compete native plants.
   Along the Kaweah, Arundo has been spreading its rhizomic tentacles into the floodplain for years.
   In Ventura County, Arundo has completely choked the lower part of the Ojai River.
   But there is hope. Three Rivers is fighting back.
   Several months ago, concerned citizens met and formed a local Weed Management Group. The name may sound tame, but don‘t let that bother you — this is one powerful ally in the battle that lies ahead.
   Since then, WMG has been hunkered down in the war room planning a strategic counterattack for this season. It is nearly ready to start beating back the invasion.
   WMG is well-armed with equipment, state and federal support, and a small battalion of determined neighbors who won’t quit until Three Rivers forces into full retreat this uninvited army of millions of weeds.
   Even so, without property owners’ help, this fight can’t be won. You don’t have to do much; just call to set up an appointment for a field biologist to visit your property.
   It’s free. If your property has been invaded, the Weed Management Group will coordinate a counterattack or help you do it yourself.
   The dedicated hotline number is 561-7319. Call now; the thistle has already sprouted and it needs to be stopped before it goes to seed in just a few weeks.
   NEXT WEEK: Inside the Weed Management Group. How to fight the war on weeds.

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