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In the News - Friday, February 19, 2010

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

The silver lining: The scene from the Little Baldy area on the Generals Highway in Sequoia

National Park last Friday (Feb. 12) shows the foothills and Central Valley shrouded in clouds

while sunshine and spring-like temperatures were the order of the day in the higher elevations.

A storm that is forecast for the region this weekend will bring more snow to the Sierra, which

could again cause a temporary closure of the Generals Highway in this area.

Flume break floods Hammond Drive

by Brian Rothhammer

  When the call came into Kaweah Powerhouse No. 1 this week, Lupe Mendoza knew exactly what to do.
   On the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 17, it was discovered that water, mud and debris had swamped a section of Hammond Drive and were cascading down-canyon toward the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
   The water was escaping from a flume operated by Southern California Edison, managed and maintained by Kaweah-Tule Eastern Hydro Division. Flume No. 1 is one of three flumes that diverts water from the Kaweah River to three power-generating turbine stations.
Mendoza, maintenance supervisor, sprang into action as did his crew.

  "Our number-one goal is public safety and to protect private property,” said Lupe.
   SCE workers, in cooperation with the Tulare County Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol, assessed the situation as to damage and public-safety issues while simultaneously closing off the supply of water at the main source near Oak Grove Bridge, six miles up the Mineral King Road. Flume operators then opened “side gates” to release the water at locations that would not impact roads or private property.
   The cause of the break was failure of a “leg.” The steel channel of the flume is supported by a historic wooden trellis that requires diligent attention.

  “This happens,” said Jim Kanard, manager of the Kaweah-Tule division.

  “Usually rocks, trees, or fire” are the cause of breaches to the flumes, he added.
   Mineral King Road was closed briefly to accommodate getting in some of the equipment to assist in the cleanup. The river below   Mineral King Road flowed chocolate-brown throughout the afternoon, reminiscent to how it looks after a rainstorm.

Snowslide damages MK cabins

  One look at the steep canyon walls at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park and it’s easy to spot some avalanche-prone areas. There are several chutes where scoured slopes are evidence of heavy snow events of the not-to-distant past.
   The series of winter storms that occurred during late January and the weekend of February 5 through 7 brought heavy snow and caused several avalanches in the Mineral King valley. Two cabins in East Mineral King, just south of the Timber Gap-Monarch Lakes trailhead, were damaged by one of the recent snowslides.
   The Martin-Dula cabin and the Sellars-Voelz cabin were hit by a fast-moving snowslide. According to a park ranger’s report that described the conditions, the slide appeared to have started on the southwest-facing slope above Monarch Creek.
   Of the two cabins, the Martin-Dula cabin appears to have suffered the more extensive damage. The entire structure was nudged off its foundation and moved several feet to the southeast.
   The Voelz cabin was hit by additional snow that made its way around the Martin-Dula cabin on the adjacent lot. The impact from that snow smashed its way through a kitchen window on the northwest corner of the cabin, flooding the first floor with fresh powder.
   Although the cabin permittees have been notified of the damage, it will be sometime after the heavy snow in the area melts that the full extent of the damage can be assessed. Dan Voelz visited the area on February 8 and posted photos of the damage to his cabin online (www.mk-webcam.net, click on Special Features, then Photo Album).
   Another slide farther up the Mineral King canyon occurred in the Crystal Creek drainage and ran all the way to the valley floor and crossed the river. This slide snapped off numerous trees and left in its wake a mound of debris.
   Park rangers also reported several abandoned vehicles on the Mineral King Road above mile marker 14. With another series of storms due to begin this weekend, more avalanches are imminent and backcountry travel in Mineral King and all areas of the parks is not advised as conditions will be extremely dangerous until at least mid-March.

Parks personnel get

serious about public involvement

  Touted as an opportunity for the public to get involved, the free workshop Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Three Rivers Memorial Building is actually a hybrid meeting where more than a dozen park staff from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be on-hand to engage all comers in an array of park projects, issues, and plans.
   To hear Adrienne Freeman, the acting information officer for the local parks, explain the rationale for this inaugural event, this meeting will be more like a close encounter of the informative kind.

  “We did this type of event at Yosemite monthly and they are a great way to reach the public,” Adrienne said. “Our goal is to get more people involved here at Sequoia-Kings Canyon and this is a proven method to do it.”
   Here’s how these meetings work. Nancy Hendricks, NPS environmental protection specialist, will offer some general remarks on planning and how and when to furnish input.
   According to Adrienne, that’s extremely important because all the topics being represented involve planning.

  “Whether you’re interested in $35 million worth of road construction, prescribed fire, a new concessions contract for Kings Canyon, or the future of Mineral King, this meeting will have something for everyone,” Adrienne said. “Tuesday night will be like a festival of park plans and projects.”
   After some general discussion and questions and answers, participants will break out and gather at several workshop stations that will be highlighting fire, roads and infrastructure, aquatic restoration, bears, caves, law enforcement, concessions, marijuana operations, Mineral King, and more.
   Park staff scheduled to attend are: Dan Blackwell, chief of maintenance and facilities; Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist; Kit Knapp, law enforcement specialist; Harold Werner, wildlife biologist-Aquatic Restoration; Joel Despain, cave specialist; Danny Gammons, wildlife biologist-Bear Management; and Thomas Liu, concessions manager.

  “We started out to schedule a meeting to deal with planning and the new gun regulations,” Adrienne said. “The list of topics just kept growing and so did the parks staff who wanted to participate.”
   Whatever might be one’s interest in the parks, it will most likely be addressed at this meeting. Personnel from more than a dozen programs, plans, and projects will be on hand to provide information, discuss the issues, and answer questions and address concerns.
   Want to know the acreage proposed for the 2010 prescribed-fire season? Want a synopsis of last year’s marijuana eradication efforts? Are the new gun laws the same throughout the National Park System? What is the road construction schedule next summer? These answers and more...
   For more information, call Adrienne at 565-3131.

New park gun rules go into effect

  One of the lesser-publicized amendments of the Credit Card Act of 2009 takes effect Monday, Feb. 22, and it could lead to confusion for some visitors who want to carry loaded firearms into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. That’s because state regulations supersede the federal bill and that means only concealed weapon permittees under California law will be allowed to carry loaded weapons in California national parks.

  “We anticipate there might be some visitors who get mixed signals from the bill,” said Adrienne Freeman, Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s acting public information officer. “The key will be getting the word out, especially at park entrance stations.”
   Since the National Park Service was created in 1916 it has been illegal to be in possession of a loaded weapon in a national park. This new legislation was a last-minute congressional deal that was passed while most lawmakers were focused on other parts of the legislation — in this case — credit cards.
   The Credit Card and Responsibility and Disclosure Act is a federal law that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on May 22, 2009. Its aim is to safeguard credit card users and reform the way card issuers raise rates and change terms unscrupulously.
   The bill was passed with huge bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. One of the main provisions seeks to protect credit card users who pay their bills on time.
   A right to bear firearms coalition in the Senate, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), added the unrelated gun amendment to prevent the Secretary of the Interior from enforcing a regulation that prohibited everyone from carrying a firearm in a national park. President George W. Bush also attempted to amend the former policy through a rule-making maneuver before he left office but the policy change was struck down by a federal judge.
   There are potential problems for local park rangers if a visitor from another state attempts to carry a loaded weapon into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Hunting remains illegal in national parks and a valid permit from another state is not valid under California law. Gun owners are responsible for knowing the laws in the state and national park in which they are traveling.

WHS Mock Trial team reign as Tulare County

champs; advances to State competition

  It’s like something out of a John Grisham legal thriller — the little guys against corporate giants. But this was a real-life page-turner.
   This year’s Woodlake High School Mock Trial team went up against big-city high schools such as Mt. Whitney, Tulare Western, Redwood, and Tulare Union, but sheer size and numbers didn’t intimidate this year’s group of fledgling attorneys and other courtroom professionals.   They defeated their opponents one by one in six different rounds to emerge after a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat tie-breaker as Tulare County champions.
   The team now advances to the State Mock Trial competition that will be held March 19 through 21 in San Jose.
   Mock Trial team members are provided a case and act either as the defense or prosecution in various rounds. The teams advance through several rounds in their quest to make it to the finals.
   In Round 1, WHS won over Mt. Whitney. Round 2: A win over Tulare Western. Round 3: WHS suffered a loss to Redwood. Round 4: WHS emerges victorious over Farmersville. Semifinals: WHS avenges their loss to Redwood by winning.
   Finals: On Tuesday, Feb. 16, WHS was the prosecution team in a “murder case” with the Tulare Union High School team as the defense.
   The three-judge panel of County of Tulare lawyers declared the match a tie after tallying the points. As a tie-breaker, the panelists had to select an ultimate winner and two out of three chose Woodlake High School.
   Kevin Skeen of Three Rivers, a math teacher at Woodlake High, has been the Mock Trial advisor for nearly a decade.
   Becoming a member of the 16-member team requires a major commitment of time and energy. The team members have been preparing for the courtroom competition for months with daily practice and research.

  This year’s team members and their roles are:
Casey LeFave, courtroom artist; Ben Pfenninger, pretrial motions attorney; Brian Pfenninger, trial attorney; Paula Gonzalez, trial attorney; Analisa Skeen, trial attorney; Danielle Knapp, trial attorney; Molly Dunn, defendant; Catherine Lima, expert witness; Joee Denis, expert witness; Kelly McGinnis, arresting officer; Jordan Martinez, witness; Maria Aguilar, witness; Samantha Arellano, witness; Lauren Moore, witness; Alberto Reynaga, bailiff; and Alejandro Reynaga, court clerk.

Seminar targets home-buyers

  Team Diana from Century 21 Three Rivers will address the real estate purchase market at a free buyers’ seminar, scheduled for Tuesday, March 2, 6:30 p.m., in the conference room at Comfort Inn. The seminar will provide information for both first-time home buyers and repeat buyers.
   Diana Glass and Diana Jules will discuss how buyers can best take advantage of some timely market conditions. Gifts from the Federal Reserve, they said, are on the clock.
   Mortgage rates have been artificially low the past 14 months due to assistance from the Federal Reserve and its mortgage-backed securities purchase program. The program will end March 31.
   While it is uncertain to what degree interest rates will rise beginning April 1, the overwhelming trend will be higher. Many experts are predicting that rates could rise in advance of April 1.
   First-time home buyers have been taking advantage of a tax credit of up to $8,000 for over a year. Repeat purchasers were also provided with an incentive in November with the availability of up to $6,500 in post-closing cash. Tax-credit-qualifying buyers have until April 30 to get under contract and must close by June 30.
   Seminar participants will be guided through the home-purchase process, be pre-approved for financing, and will receive an informative buyer’s guide. The event is free, but reservations are required and may be made by calling 799-8201.

Rediscover Big Meadows

  There’s a new group in town and they are all about ensuring everyone has a good time in the mountains. The Big Meadows Association, although a fledgling organization, has made great strides in the betterment of the popular Big Meadows area.
   With the sole mission of “supporting, promoting, and improving those areas used by visitors for snowplay, backcountry experiences, hiking, fishing, camping, biking, four-wheel-driving, and more,” the group is currently seeking members, volunteers, donations, corporate sponsors, and partnerships.
   The Big Meadows Association is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. The group has also filed for their 501(c)3 status with the IRS and will be soon finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service.
   The Big Meadows area is located in Giant Sequoia National Monument, just off the Generals Highway between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Since the area is under Forest Service jurisdiction, there are some differences in what visitors can and cannot do on these public lands as compared to national parks.
   In Giant Sequoia National Monument, snowmobiles are allowed on designated roads. Dogs are allowed on trails. Camping (and snow-camping) is allowed outside of developed campgrounds.
   In the summertime, there is a campground, a horse camp, a pack station, hiking opportunities, and the Buck Rock Fire Lookout all in proximity to Big Meadows Road.
   In the wintertime, there is a plowed parking lot with a restroom just off the Generals Highway that provides access for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. From the parking lot, it’s a mostly flat 2.5-mile trek to Big Meadows, where there is a well-stocked warming hut, maintained for the past two winters by the Big Meadows Association.
   Doug and Pam Canby have been the energy behind the creation of the Big Meadows Association, as well as the reopening last winter of the warming hut, which they now stock weekly. Although they commute to work in Tulare and Lindsay, respectively, the couple lives in Badger and has a cabin in Heart Meadow, about four miles beyond the Big Meadows campground.

  “We are cleaning, stocking, and maintaining the hut weekly, grooming the snow trails, clearing the outhouses and payphone when snow-covered, and soliciting support and advocacy as we speak,” said Pam, who is president of the Big Meadows Association.
   The one-room building includes a loft, carpeting, and windows. The hut is mounted on a trailer and will be hauled away at winter’s end, then returned before the snow falls next winter. In the off-season, it is used by Montecito-Sequoia Lodge for storage or employee housing.
   Inside, there is a Coleman campstove, a teapot, water, and packets of coffee, tea, cocoa, oatmeal, soup, and more. Donations are requested on an honor basis to assist with the upkeep and regular restocking of the hut’s goodies.
   The guestbook at the hut reveals how much people are enjoying having the facility. It may have even saved a life or two as portrayed in an entry on Monday, Jan. 18.
   That is the day that the “Western Wallop” arrived in the Sierra. The log entry reads, “My dad and I stayed in a restroom overnight, freezing with no food. In the morning, we kept walking and found out you could come in here. You guys really saved us.”
   Currently, there are a dozen or so miles of cross-country ski and snowmobile trails that can be accessed from the Big Meadows parking lot, and there is a trail for any level of skier. At times, these trails are groomed by the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge equipment, a Nordic ski resort that is located just south of the Big Meadows turnoff.
   The Canbys also maintain area trails with their snowmobile and a grooming attachment that creates a ski track.
   Getting to Big Meadows in the winter is a scenic trip, which ever way one may travel from Three Rivers. The Generals Highway between Wuksachi Lodge and Montecito-Sequoia closes when snowstorms are looming and remains closed until Park Service plows can clear the roadway.
   However, when this road is open, it is a marvelous drive through a spectacular winter wonderland of snow-covered forest, groves of Big Trees, and views of the Central Valley below, often socked in with fog or clouds while the Generals Highway is basking in sunshine.
   Another route, which remains open year-round, is up Dry Creek Drive to Highway 245 then Highway 180 into Kings Canyon National Park. During or immediately after a storm, the highway may be closed at The Wye (where Highway 180 junctions with the Generals Highway; about eight miles north of the Big Meadows Road) and forest visitors will require an escort to continue beyond the gate. This needs to be prearranged with Montecito-Sequoia Lodge (call 565-3388).
   The best bet for visitors — both for ease of travel, personal safety, and recreational enjoyment — is to explore the area when it is not in the midst of a snowstorm. During the winter months, personnel at the national park entrance stations will require that all vehicles have tire chains onboard. Even if drivers have an all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and/or snow tires, the law requires that chains be carried in snow-prone areas during the winter, even if they will not be utilized.
Entering the area through either Sequoia or Kings Canyon national parks, an entrance fee of $20 per carload is required. A much better deal, however, is to purchase the 12-month pass to the parks and the Hume Lake District of Giant Sequoia National Monument for $30 (an all-parks annual pass is available for $80).
   For details on skiing in the Big Meadows area, visit the "Hiking" page on this website.

SFCC announces Hero Appreciation months

  The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual Hero Appreciation Months, honoring public safety and defense personnel January through March, is currently in full swing with participants and honorees alike enjoying the program, which is on course to being the busiest to date. Heroes and their families from points north and south are visiting these beautiful foothills while enjoying their thank-you discounts and parties and basking in the warmth of local hospitality.
   On Friday, Feb. 26, for the second party of the season, SFCC will honor current and former law enforcement/peace officers, at 7 p.m. at the Three Rivers Arts Center with refreshments, stories, certificates, and trophies. Like all the other Heroes events, this celebration is free and open to the public.
   Special honorees are Tulare County Undersheriff Dahl Cleek and Lt. David Galloway, who have spent many hours working with local lodging owners and owners of riverfront property on local river issues, along with Three Rivers resident Don Thompson, past president of the local Volunteers-in-Patrol. Don and his wife Evelyn have spent more than five years working for the VIPs, patrolling in Three Rivers and down in the Valley as needed. Don, in particular, has always taken the initiative when it comes to safety issues and maintenance, especially with regard to the team’s patrol truck. The trophies for this year’s honorees are being provided by Phil Stewart of Stewart Laser Designs in Exeter who, together with Three Rivers artists, donated time and talent to create this year’s custom-made keepsakes.
   The third Hero party of the year, honoring members of the Armed Forces and veterans, will be held Friday, March 26, at the same time and place. Special honorees will be announced soon.
   The fourth and final Hero event of 2010 is a Picnic and Bathtub Race, which will be held at Lake Kaweah on Saturday, March 27, from 11 am to 4 pm. Steve Crigler of Three Rivers is donating the use of the bathtubs, which teams will turn into “boats.” Ramon’s Recycling, which serves Three Rivers each Saturday, is also involved in the creation of these boats through the donation of some flotation materials.
   Presently, there are five teams in the early stages of preparing for the race: Three Rivers Bread Basket, Three Rivers Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Pro Youth HEART, and Lake Kaweah rangers. Team leaders should be selecting their teammates and beginning to solicit individuals and businesses for sponsorships. The deadline to turn in a list of teammates and sponsorship funds is March 6. After costs are covered, the sponsorship monies will be pooled and the winning team will donate the funds to the charity of their choice. The winning bathtub boat will be displayed at the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
   A special appearance at the Bathtub Race will be Chris Selby, Mobile Veterans Center Readjustment Counseling Technician with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Fresno, with his mobile service facility that offers services to veterans for free.
   For questions or more information about SFCC’s Heroes Appreciation Months, call Leah Catherine Launey at 561-4270.

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
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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