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In the News - Friday, FEBRUARY 17, 2006

Scenic highway

cruising along

   At least a dozen volunteers are compiling assessments of Highway 198, and the drive to designate the state route from Lake Kaweah to Sequoia Park is cruising toward the next step in the process. At least that’s the word from Tom Sparks, the project’s local liaison with Caltrans and spokesperson for the Village Foundation.
   On Thursday, Feb. 16, Sparks met with local county and state officials who would be reviewing a draft application for a scenic highway in the next couple of months.
“Caltrans seems very optimistic that the Three Rivers portion of the route will meet the state’s criteria for the scenic designation,” Sparks said. “To qualify, at least two-thirds of the route must be free from visual intrusions.”
   For the past two weeks, Sparks said, at least a dozen local volunteers have completed visual assessments of the route from below Lemon Hill to the Ash Mountain entrance station. The forms that these workers filled out will then be integrated into the actual application.
   Once the designation as “scenic” becomes official, Caltrans erects the distinctive “poppy signs” inviting tourists to drive the route and enjoy the scenic views. In other areas of California, local businesses have received a boost from the visitors, some who stop to seek out roadside attractions.
   Sparks said county planners have prepared for the eventuality of the scenic highway program by designating projects along Sierra Drive in their own “corridor protection plan.”

  “The so-called intrusions that do exist do not present a major problem in Three Rivers,” Sparks said. “When they are encountered along the highway, each one is rated and may be designated as not a part of the scenic area.”
   Sparks said the scenic designation is a “win-win” because it enhances the community’s identity and makes Three Rivers a more attractive place to visit.

  “There are still a few folks who have expressed concern that somehow we will be placing restrictions on what they can do and cannot do with their property,” Sparks said. “That’s not what we are about and we invite those folks to get involved and realize all the benefits that can come from a scenic highway designation.”

Old chief is

new chief
County fire service versus CDF

is wait-and-see for Three Rivers

   In an announcement that came as no surprise, the Board of Supervisors named former California Department Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) chief Steve Sunderland to head the newly organized Tulare County Fire Department. Chief Sunderland, who served until the end of 2005 as the CDF’s Tulare County fire chief, officially ended his retirement after less than two months.
   Supervisor Allen Ishida, prior to Monday’s announcement, said the first order of business in establishing the county’s new fire department was to get the right man for the chief position. With that accomplished, he said, the department can really start to move forward.

  “A number of CDF employees who are eligible for retirement might want to consider working for Tulare County,” Ishida said. “We all benefit from their experience and they will actually be earning more than if they were to stay on with CDF.”
   Sunderland said two months ago it was his intention to retire. But at age 52, he said, he quickly realized that he was not quite ready for the proverbial easy chair.
   Chief Sunderland admitted that heading up the newly organized department would be one of the most difficult challenges of his career. He begins his tenure with the new department as Tulare County officials were forecasting a savings of $31,000 to annually operate each of the 17 stations on the valley floor. What remains a question mark, however, is how the three mountain stations, including Three Rivers, will be staffed.
   Initially, Ishida said, he thought that Tulare County could negotiate with CDF and reach a settlement that was equitable to both parties. In that scenario, he said, the county would pay a budgeted amount and CDF would furnish the staffing and the equipment.
   But now it appears that a settlement might not be imminent. CDF will be covering Three Rivers during the rapidly approaching fire season but beyond that is still an unknown. In an ironic twist, Three Rivers could end up with three staffed fire stations.
   The former CDF Hammond Station is currently being remodeled by Sequoia National Park for use by its Ash Mountain fire crews. CDF will most likely continue to staff the new Three Rivers station, and if no agreement is reached with Tulare County, their personnel might return to the old Three Rivers station on South Fork Drive in 2007.
   On Wednesday night, the Three Rivers Community Services District (CSD) voted to notify the County that if it could not be assured of at least a three-year occupancy, it would not be relocating with other community groups to the former Three Rivers Fire Station 14 as planned. The vote came after a letter from the county informed the CSD that they might need to vacate in June 2007 if the old fire station was needed for the Tulare County Fire Department.
   The impending delay was disappointing news, especially to the local food pantry that is one of three groups that hoped to lease a part of the former fire station. The CSD is looking into other alternatives while the future fire protection for Three Rivers is worked out between CDF and the county.

A tale of two Guerras

WHS soccer teams vie

for Valley championships… again

   In recent years, it’s been a struggle for small schools like Woodlake High with an enrollment of 719 just to find enough players to compete in most of the traditional sports. In basketball and baseball, for example, coming from communities with no Little League baseball or recreation basketball programs, many student athletes report at the frosh level never having experienced organized youth league competition.
   The exception to this trend is soccer. For many Woodlake youth, soccer is the only game in town and they have the trophies to prove it.
   Local parents have overcome many obstacles ensuring that Woodlake still offers plenty of competitive soccer for boys and girls from peewee to the teen travel teams. Woodlake knows soccer and the rest of the Central Valley is starting to take notice.
   Frank Ainley, the longtime athletic director at Woodlake High School, has seen it all in his more than three decades at the school. In the past, he’s been a part of Valley championships in football and sees some encouraging similarities in the making of the latest sports dynasty at Woodlake High School.
   Ainley agrees that youth programs are the foundation for success but coaching is what puts the program over the top. And “over the top” might be an understatement for the tradition that the Guerras — brothers Roy and Sal — are building at Woodlake.
   Roy Guerra, who teaches Physical Education at Woodlake Valley Middle School, knows firsthand how fundamental skills and the will to win can lead to success. A former soccer player at Woodlake High, Guerra took his game to Fresno Pacific where he earned a scholarship and was a collegiate star.
   That experience led to an education degree and access to a great role model to help him fulfill his calling to become a coach. Eight years ago, Roy took over boys’ soccer at Woodlake and concurrently put cross-country back in the fall sports lineup.
   In his first seven seasons, the boys’ soccer teams have been Valley champions twice and knocking at the door in each of the other playoffs. Two years ago, Coach Guerra was named The Fresno Bee’s Coach of the Year, a prestigious award for the best of the best of the Valley’s coaches.
   But for Coach Guerra, it’s not about his coaching — it’s about his charges playing as a team. He said he has always been blessed with the individual players but when they buy into the team concept, he says:

  “It doesn’t matter who we play or in what division they compete, we’re capable of beating anybody.”
   Like all the great coaches, Guerra always seems to have his players peaking just in time for playoffs. This season, his Tigers were toying with the idea of moving up a division, but have since determined that the better competition is in Division 4.
   In that division, Woodlake’s boys are seeded No. 2 in a nine-team field and opened their postseason last night at home vs. Wasco (results to be announced). Kerman is seeded No. 1, but also look for Kingsburg, the division’s defending champion to be in the title hunt.
   Girls’ soccer is a very similar success story, but with a different Coach Guerra. In this case, it’s Sal Guerra, Coach Roy’s brother, who has his team poised to win a Valley championship.
   The relentless pressure of the girls’ game is the very same style that the boys play. Last year, the girls lost in the title game and were Valley runners-up.
   The girls last won a Valley championship three years ago. Another Valley title would be Coach Sal’s first and a fitting crown after an undefeated East Sequoia League season. The Lady Tigers are the No. 1 seed and open Friday night at home vs. Kerman.
   Game time for this first-round playoff is 6 p.m. Tickets are $4 for adults; $3 for students and seniors. For information, call the WHS office, 564-3307.

SNHA offers

daylong snowshoe trek

   The Sequoia Field Institute division of the Sequoia Natural History Association is kicking off its 2006 Outdoor Seminar season with a “Snowshoe Sequoia Trek.”
   On Saturday, March 4, participants will have the opportunity to enjoy a guided tour through the heart of the Giant Forest in its current winter-wonderland state.
   Alysia Wilson, an interpretive ranger at Sequoia National Park, will lead the walk and teach snowshoers about the unique environment that is Giant Forest.
   Participants will meet at the Beetle Rock Education Center at 10 a.m. and, after a brief introduction, begin the trek from the Giant Forest Museum across the highway. Lunch (bring your own) will be enjoyed at the Washington Tree with return to the Beetle Rock Education Center planned for about 3 p.m.
   The walk will be moderately strenuous so participants should be in good physical shape (not recommended for children under 12). Participants are responsible for all their own gear from waterproof boots to water bottles; SNHA will provide the snowshoes.
   The cost of the seminar is $85; SNHA members are $60.
   Information: 565-3759.

Three Rivers rallies

to fight weeds

   Three Rivers has long been known for its independent spirit. Give us a worthwhile cause and we’ll rally our resources and put up a fight that surprises people who don’t know us well.
   Fending off this mounting invasion of noxious weeds is one of those worthwhile causes. Last week’s Commonwealth article produced a surprisingly good response from landowners all over Three Rivers, totaling hundreds of acres of terrain.
   So now the logical question is, “What happens next?”
   First of all, if you haven’t called already, it’s not too late to do it now. Property surveys will continue throughout March and April and probably into May.
   If you think you have an invasive thistle — yellow star, Italian, or milk — and want the Weed Management Group to have a look, the hotline phone number is 561-7319. That’s the first step: Call.
   The second step is the survey. A field biologist will come out to your property and map the areas on your land where thistle is growing, paying close attention to the extent and density of the thistle population.
   The third step is to go after the invaded areas. At this point, you as a property owner have a choice: you can take care of the thistle yourself with advisory assistance from the Weed Management Group or you can let the WMG do the work for you through a program sponsored by Century 21 Three Rivers.
   If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you might want to attend the practical workshop that’s being planned for early March. More on that later.
   Generally though, going after thistle on your own gives you a few options. You can weed whack it (timing is important and you have to do it more than once), you can hand-pull it (particularly useful as penance for a wide spectrum of transgressions), or you can spray it.
   If the WMG does the work for you, they will likely use a broadleaf herbicide called Transline, which doesn’t injure grasses. Of course, spraying on this scale requires equipment, and this is where the Weed Management Group, and Three Rivers as a whole, owes Century 21 a big thank you.
   Century 21 has made a significant sponsorship donation that will be used to purchase a truck-mounted spray rig, two backpack sprayers, and the Transline herbicide. The donation also covers payroll for the equipment operator up to $1,000.
   The spray rig will be mobile, mounted on the back of a pickup, and it will have a 300-foot reel that, under ideal conditions, can treat over six acres from a single parked location. The centerpiece of the campaign to control invasive weeds, the mobile spray rig will cut the time required to treat large open areas to a fraction of the time required to treat that same area with small backpack sprayers. And it only requires one person to operate it.
   That’s not the end of it, though. The campaign to beat back thistle won’t be quite so easy.
   Affected areas will have to be monitored for at least five years and most likely retreated as well. Last season’s unsprouted thistle seeds will remain viable in the soil for up to seven years after they drop to the ground.
   These laggard seeds are what makes controlling thistle such a challenge. No telling when they may sprout.
   And when they do, the plant that grows — if allowed to grow — will produce tens of thousands of new seeds. Good equipment is going to help a lot, but nothing will replace vigilance.



High times for local aviation

   It was a warm, clear day on Sunday, June 9, 1935. The last of the wildflowers were in bloom and the hills were turning golden.
   The entire community was gathered on the east side of the Kaweah River’s North Fork, just a quarter mile above its confluence with the Middle Fork. It was a day of celebration for Three Rivers as forward progress had landed in town in the form of air transportation.
   The public ceremony that took place formally dedicated the new Jefferson Davis Field, better known as the Three Rivers Airport. The single-runway airstrip of graded dirt and gravel provided access for small aircraft to land and take off.
   There were no hangars or terminal. No restaurants and lounges. No onsite emergency services. No flight towers or air-traffic control.
   But this airfield allowed for visitors to fly in, residents to fly out, and the import and export of goods and services.
More than 9,000 people attended the dedication, which included an air show highlighted by stunt pilots and aerialists.
   Then one of the most popular forms of entertainment, the tricks and feats performed that day brought the crowd to its feet and caused them to gasp in awe and excitement.
   Above them, the pilots performed daring spins and dives with their planes, including the loop-the-loop and barrel-roll maneuvers. Aerialists performed their own unique acts, including wing-walking, stunt parachuting, and midair plane transfers.
   Enrollees from the Civilian Conservation Corps — the Depression-era program that put Americans back to work — stationed in Sequoia National Park directed traffic and provided first aid and standby firefighting crews.
   And it wasn’t only what was in the air that caused thrills. The guest of honor at the dedication was Jean Parker, the star of the recently-released motion picture Sequoia, a story of love between adversaries — human, deer, puma — and the destruction of logging and hunting in “the Sequoia forest.”
   According to the Happy Days, the weekly newspaper of the CCCs, the ravishing Jean Parker was 20 years old at the time of her local appearance and caused quite a stir among the CCC boys.
Parker passed away Nov. 30, 2005, at the age of 90.
   This golden era of aviation in Kaweah Country lasted for 35 years. In 1970, the Three Rivers Airport, the only fog-free landing field in Tulare County, was closed to air traffic.
   Congress had established the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967 with the agency’s primary responsibility being air safety. With the passage of the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970, the FAA was empowered to regulate airports.
   The act’s primary purpose was to promote the development of new aviation infrastructure, but also instituted stricter regulations regarding airport operations and safety. The safety criteria set by the FAA’s new comprehensive program dealt with the number and type of firefighting vehicles available at airports, runway lighting, and storage facilities for hazardous substances such as fuel.
   Such upgrades at the Three Rivers Airport were not deemed to be economically feasible by the County of Tulare, so the airport was permanently closed.
   Today, the former airfield serves as a staging area when helicopters are required in town — for wildfires, river searches, or the delivery of dignitaries, such as when Bruce Babbitt, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior, dropped in for a visit in 1997.
   The former landing strip, now privately owned, also serves as parking and RV camping during the annual Jazzaffair festival and the Lions Team Roping.


William Bubel,

   William L. Bubel died Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, at his Three Rivers home. He was 72.
   Bill was born Aug. 29, 1933, in Tamaqua, Penn., to William and Helen Bubel. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to 1962. In 1956, he married the former Martha Wolfe at Carson City, Nev.
   Bill was an engineer for the aerospace industry in Southern California. In August 1994, Bill and Martha moved to Tulare County, where Bill worked with the PSI Tronix engineering firm in Tulare until his retirement in 1994.
   Most recently, Bill enjoyed volunteering as a photographer for Sequoia National Park. He has had two articles published on Death Valley and Sequoia national parks.
   In addition to his wife of nearly 50 years, Martha, Bill will be dearly missed by his two sons, Bill Bubel and Greg Bubel, both of Salt Lake City; one grandson, David Lee Byrd, who is currently stationed in Iraq; and two great-granddaughters.
   A private service will be held.
   Remembrances in Bill’s name may be sent to: Hospice of Tulare County, 900 W. Oak St., Visalia, CA 93291.

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