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In the News -
Friday, FEBRUARY 10, 2006
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
NPS returns to Hammond
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
current General Plan  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:
the county zoning ordinance by adding a “planned community zone”
that could be used anywhere in the foothills;
the General Plan/Foothill Growth Management Plan to designate the Yokohl
Valley Ranch as a “planned community area”;
the property to planned community;
a general plan/master plan that defines land-use density divided into
specific planning areas; and
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 BIG FOUR:
The enemies and allies
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
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
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
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.