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In the News - Friday, March 6, 2009


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Mountain lion and vehicle

collide near Slick Rock

   A mature female mountain lion was hit Wednesday, March 4, by an eastbound Three Rivers motorist at about 6:45 p.m. on Highway 198 in the road cut just west of the entrance to the Slick Rock Recreation Area at Lake Kaweah. After emergency responders had secured the area, which included dozens of passing motorists who stopped at the scene, the animal was euthanized by a game warden who fired two shots from his service revolver.
   According to the female driver who furnished information at the scene but wished to remain anonymous, she was driving her late-model SUV eastbound at the speed limit when she saw a flash of something that entered her peripheral vision from above the roadway on the right side of her vehicle.

  “The next thing I heard and felt were some thuds that apparently were made as the animal became caught underneath my vehicle,” recalled the woman. “The lion jumped down from way up on the hillside next to the highway. If I had come by a couple of seconds sooner it might have landed right on my windshield. ”
   After the motorist stopped, the injured mountain lion came to a rest straddling the curb along the south shoulder of the roadway. It was still breathing after the accident and raised its head slightly several times in an attempt to relieve some of its obvious discomfort.
   Approximately one hour after the accident, emergency personnel loaded the deceased mountain lion into the game warden’s pickup.
   The motorist was shaken but not injured and apparently the vehicle was not damaged. Several others at the scene were visibly distraught.
   The mountain lion is believed to be the same one that has been spotted several times in the area. Its tracks have been seen periodically at Slick Rock and around the Cobbleknoll area.
   Sightings of mountain lions are rare, but most accidents between vehicles and wildlife occur just before sunrise or shortly after sunset and near wildlife corridors when animals are attempting to cross roadways in search of a water source or their next meal.
   Motorists should also use caution when driving after a rainstorm. That is when wildlife emerges from their shelters and become active in their search for food and water.
   Wildlife sightings in the Slick Rock area, especially of mountain lions, should be reported to Lake Kaweah park rangers or the California Department of Fish and Game.

South Fork heist has neighbors on alert

   A recent burglary at a South Fork Estates home has area residents wary and on alert. Investigating detectives aren’t certain, but the latest burglary that occurred on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 17, or in the early morning of Feb. 18, may be related to others that have been reported in the last few weeks near South Fork and Old Three Rivers drives.
   A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department said that the entire community should be on the lookout and take every precaution, especially when leaving their property unattended for extended periods.

  “We always see a rise in these kinds of thefts when there is high unemployment or tough economic times like we are seeing now,” said Sheriff Bill Wittman at last Monday’s town meeting.
   The latest South Fork Estates incident occurred while the local residents were in Riverside visiting relatives. Apparently a thief or thieves entered the dwelling through a “doggie door” and then unlatched a sliding door to carry out the loot.
   The victims’ grandson reported the theft. Sheriff’s deputies think that the person or persons responsible may have been in the house on a previous occasion and had knowledge that the owners were out of town.
   According to a police report compiled by investigating deputies, a number of items were removed from the dwelling, including two flat-screen televisions, a wireless router, PlayStation games, a video game console, and a bank bag containing a checkbook from a Sierra Drive business.
   The missing items were valued at $5,000. There was an extensive collection of Hummel figurines in the house that was left untouched as were several pieces of jewelry. The victim of the heist said when she and her husband moved from Orange County to Three Rivers a few years ago, she never expected this kind of thing to occur here.

  “When something like this happens, it’s a terrible, uncomfortable feeling that makes you feel like you’ve been invaded,” said the woman, who requested anonymity. “It just makes you want to curl up and crawl back inside yourself and never leave home.”
   A possible break in the case came earlier this week when a $240 check from the Three Rivers business was written at a Visalia Target store. The stolen check was returned by the Bank of the Sierra and now detectives are checking the store’s surveillance tapes to help identify of the person who passed the bad check.
   Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Sheriff’s Department dispatcher at 733-6211.

Lunker landed at Lake Kaweah

   If you ask Scott Schnetzinger, who when he’s not fishing is an assistant manager at Three Rivers Market, where his favorite fishing hole is he will probably tell you Lake Kaweah. For all you local wannabes, that’s about as close as you’ll get to the correct answer because like any accomplished angler, the where and how depends on the when and the whims of the weather.
   According to Scott, this time of year can produce some excellent fishing at Lake Kaweah but all the conditions must line up just right. Take last Monday morning, for example, when Scott, standing among a group of anglers at Boat Ramp No. 2, was tossing a “crank bait” in five feet of water.
   The other anglers onshore that morning were enjoying a sudden blast of spring-like weather and hoping to catch a trout or two that had recently been planted near the launch ramp. There’s even been some brood stock planted lately so a rainbow weighing more than four pounds is within the realm of catchability.
   But Scott is a purest and he’s particularly after one fish: Lake Kaweah’s lunker largemouth bass, which, in reality, are a Florida species that ever since it was planted after the lake was purged in 1986 has yielded trophies upwards of 16 pounds.
   Scott admits he’s never got one quite that big, but he will someday. On this day, he was content with a 5½-pound specimen that put up a nice tussle on light tackle.

  “I hooked that fish pretty bad or I would normally release it after I reeled it in,” said Scott. “It was a female and, fortunately, she had already completed spawning. That’s probably why she was so hungry.”
   According to Scott, when the water levels are lower, the odds of catching a really big fish — if you know what’s working and where to drop a line — are even better.

  “There’s nothing I enjoy doing more than fishing for a big old bass,” said Scott. “I don’t just fish... I catch!”

47th annual Woodlake Awards Banquet

Woodlake honors citizens

who make a difference

  On the last Saturday of February, community members in Woodlake set aside the evening to honor its annual community-service leaders. Hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Woodlake, the event consists of dinner and the awards program.
   The banquet was founded in 1961 to honor a Man of the Year and a Woman of the Year. These awards have been presented to community members every year since.
   In 1971, a Youth of the Year award was created. It was presented sporadically until 1997. Beginning that year and continuing every year thereafter, both a male and female senior at Woodlake High School have been honored.
   Business of the Year awards began in 1999. Woodlake businesses are selected and presented with the award at the banquet by the Woodlake Valley Chamber of Commerce.
   There are also the Man and Woman of the Decade awards, given to those residents who have made service to Woodlake their life’s work. This award has been presented just 16 times over the last 40 years.
   There are other awards that are also presented as deserving citizens come to the fore. Veteran of the Year, Lifetime Achievements, a special Century 2000 Award, and the Spirit of Woodlake.
   It’s a tough club to break into, but a few select Three Rivers residents have been recognized for their commitment to Woodlake. WHS athletic boosters Kent and Sandy Owen (2006) and Jackie Harris-Groeber and Robert Groeber (2007) have received Spirit of Woodlake recognition. Stephen Sommers (1979) and Soukarana Stephens (2005) have been presented with Youth of the Year awards.
   On Saturday, Feb. 28, Woodlake broke ranks to allow another Three Rivers resident into this elite club. Jordan Vieira, a WHS senior from Three Rivers, took home the 2009 male Youth of the Year award.
   His female counterpart in this year’s award is Liliana Garcia, also a WHS senior.
   Michael Pace, a longtime resident, retired high school teacher, and founder/organizer of Woodlake High School’s annual Veterans Day, received the Man of the Year award for his longstanding community service.
   Leslie Rivas, whose name can be found on nearly every nonprofit organization’s roster in town, was honored with the Woman of the Year award. Leslie’s mom Carol Nickel resides in Three Rivers.
   The Spirit of Woodlake award deservedly went to Lupe Pinon, who is a one-woman cheer squad. Just look for the woman in the tiger-print skirt that, when lifted for the grand finale, reveals shorts with tiger pawprints on the backside.
   Frances Ortiz, who just happens to be Lupe’s mother, received the Lifetime Achievements award. Frances is a former mayor of Woodlake, current vice mayor, and longtime city councilmember.
   Valley Business Bank, the only bank serving the community, received the 2009 Business of the Year award.


Local author recalls

life after the Dust Bowl

Beyond the Dust Bowl

with a

Pocket Full of Peanuts

by Ron Hughart

Bear State Books, 2009

120 pages, softcover, $15.95

   Ron Hughart has some incredible accomplishments in his careers as pilot, teacher, police lieutenant, author, and movie actor, but he’s never lost sight of his roots or family history. The widely-read Exeter author recounted his coming of age as a son of migrant farmworkers in the 1950s and 1960s in his landmark first book The Place Beyond the Dust Bowl.
   Published in 2002, Hughart’s autobiographical story is the epic struggle of a bucktoothed, gangly kid who moved from place to place in search of the next crop or the family’s next meal. His parents are typical of hundreds of displaced “Okies” who landed in the San Joaquin Valley in the late 1930s and for the next two decades were forced into the migrant lifestyle to feed their starving families.

  “My mom, who came out west with her parents in 1938, always referred to California as ‘this country,’” Hughart recalled. “It was as if they were relocating to a foreign country.”
   Because of the harsh reality the migrants encountered, it was extremely difficult for these Okies to become a part of California society. That, according to Hughart, is the essence of the story he tells about his Dust Bowl experiences.

  “I’ll tell you, quite frankly, I was surprised by all the folks who have told me how much my book has meant in their own lives as they try to make sense of their family history,” Hughart said.
   Buoyed by the success of the first book, Hughart has written a sequel entitled Beyond the Dust Bowl with a Pocket Full of Peanuts. The new book is scheduled for release by April 1 and contains new stories, more facts about mentions in the first book, as well as answering some questions raised by Hughart’s growing legion of fans.

   Hughart said not much has been written or documented since John Steinbeck wrote the saga of the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath.

  “If you recall, Steinbeck’s classic ends with the Joads heading out after having greatly suffered but with hope for the future,” Hughart said. “My story is what happened to the ‘Joads’ next as they made their way from Salinas to Bakersfield and dozens of places in between.”
   It’s a story of how these so-called Okies were eventually assimilated into a culture. Hughart paints an autobiographical, painful portrait of the migrant lifestyle — its brutal passions, humbling failures, and life’s little pleasures that are rooted in an unconditional love that these plain folk have for each other.
   Family ties helped many of these folks cope with hard times, and today many Okies and their descendents have rekindled an interest to reconnect with that cultural heritage. In Tulare County, a growing number of Okies have been inspired by Hughart’s book to search out their own roots.
   Grady Nunnelee (1924-2007), a 60-year resident of Three Rivers, lost both parents when he was a young child and was raised during his teen years by Ron Hughart’s grandmother in Farmersville. Grady’s son, Jerry Nunnelee of Three Rivers, and his wife Paula became reacquainted with Hughart after reading the first Dust Bowl book.

  “There are a lot of us with a link to the Okie heritage right here in Kaweah Country,” said Paula. “The books that Ron is writing are inspiring all of us to become better acquainted with our own Tulare County history.”
   In December 2008, Ron had a successful booksigning for the first book at the Visalia Costco. He sold and signed more than 100 books in a single afternoon.
   Now Hughart is taking his booksigning event on the road, and in April and May he will peddle his books at 15 California Costco stores from Salinas to Chino.

  “It’s exponential at this point,” said Hughart. “There are so many of these folks who migrated from the Dust Bowl who are dying off that their extended families want to know more about stories just like their own.”
   A visit to Ron’s daughter, who lives in Arlington, Va., and is married to a Naval intelligence officer, is also on Ron’s Costco agenda. On April 11, he will be doing another booksigning there while he’s visiting his relatives.
   Also in the works is a summer tour of historic Route 66 where Ron will visit more Costcos along the way as he retraces the actual footsteps of his family when they first left Oklahoma in a converted cattle truck in 1938.

  “They were so broke they only made it as far as a little migrant camp in Arizona where they gleaned once-picked cotton fields for the spoils left behind,” Hughart recalled. “It took them a lot longer than planned to get to California because the company deceived them by paying in scrip, effectively holding them captives in exchange for their labor.”
   These are the lives and times that Hughart writes about in his books. They are must-reads for students of the period, anyone who lived through the Great Depression, and for the Okie in all of us.
   For more information on how to get the new book or for a copy of the original Beyond the Dust Bowl, inquire at the Commonwealth, the exclusive local outlet for the Dust Bowl books.


Parks archivist publishes

Kings Canyon pictorial history

Images of America:

Kings Canyon

National Park

by Ward Eldredge

Arcadia Publishing , 2009

128 pages, softcover, $21.99

   The set is now complete. Ward Eldredge of Three Rivers, museum curator at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, has published the Kings Canyon edition to the “Images of America” series and it is due to be released on Monday, March 9.
   This is a follow-up to Ward’s Sequoia National Park publication that was published last year. As with the Sequoia book, the new Kings Canyon National Park edition consists of historical black-and-white images and in-depth captions that tell the history of this spectacular place.
   The first photo caption in Chapter One tells how Kings Canyon National Park came to be: “On March 4, 1940, Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed legislation creating Kings Canyon National Park. Absorbing the 50-year-old, four-square-mile General Grant National Park, the new park encompassed the headwaters of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River and preserved 454,000 acres of extraordinary scenic variety: sequoia groves, grand glacial canyons, and vast alpine lakes. Its creation brought to an end 60 years of struggle and controversy.”
   Six chapters, a bibliography, and 200 photos later, a grand vision of Kings Canyon National Park is achieved, from the human history to its natural features. Readers will view the early National Park Service visitor facilities at Grant Grove, the early explorers and tourists, and the lumber mills and logging operations that targeted groves and groves of ancient giant sequoias.
   But most captivating is the classic scenery from Sierra peaks to royal rivers, deep canyons to lovely lakes, and giant sequoia groves to mountain meadows. After all, this is the essence of Kings Canyon.
   Also available is a set of 15 postcards featuring historic black-and-white photos. Poignant among these is a shot of the Mark Twain Tree with a group of two dozen sightseers posed in front of it, then another postcard that shows the Mark Twain stump after the tree was felled and, just to add scale as to how massive this tree was, more than 50 men are standing around the circumference of the trunk.
   Arcadia Publishing has been publishing the Images of America series since 1993, documenting the history of hundreds of communities, points of interest, and national parks. The newest addition to the Images of America series, Kings Canyon National Park, will be available at Sequoia-Kings Canyon visitor centers, independent and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at: www.arcadiapublishing.com.


Mix and mingle

at SFCC event

   As a way to introduce Chamber members and the community to the diversity of local businesses in Three Rivers and surrounding foothills communities, the Chamber has been hosting regular mixers at a member’s business location. The March mixer continues this tradition.
   The community is invited to join the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce for their quarterly member mixer on Wednesday, March 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. This mixer, hosted by Wood 'N' Horse, Launey Mediation, and Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast and will be held at the home of Christy Wood, owner/operator of Wood ‘N’ Horse Training Stables, at 42846 North Fork Drive in Three Rivers.
   The Chamber invites all business members, as well as community members interested in the economic health of Three Rivers and surrounding gateway communities, to attend the member mixer. The Chamber will provide updates on recent accomplishments and share plans for some exciting upcoming activities. There will also be plenty of time to network with fellow business owners.
   The Chamber intends to continue this trend of having its member businesses host quarterly mixers throughout the year. Member businesses interested in hosting a mixer provide the location and refreshments.
   The Chamber provides advertising and notifies its members. Several businesses can partner together to host the mixer, which also could provide a unique opportunity to highlight businesses located together in one of the many “plazas” in Three Rivers.
   As a mixer host, business members will be able to share information about their products and services to attendees during the Chamber’s activities update. Chamber members interested in hosting one of the 2009 quarterly mixers should contact Catherine Launey, owner of Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast, 561-4270.

SFCC shows appreciation to heroes

   The second of three events held in conjunction with the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce’s Heroes Appreciation Months took place Friday, Feb. 27. This recent gathering honored local law enforcement, whereas the January gathering was a commemoration to local emergency services personnel.
   Glenn McIntyre of Three Rivers was the impetus behind the formation of the local Sheriff’s VIPs (Volunteers in Patrol) in 2002. At the event, he recognized the 13 local members that currently serve the community, several who were in attendance. It is estimated that this countywide volunteer program saves the Sheriff’s Department more than $500,000 annually.
   Also addressing the audience were former Three Rivers resident deputy Kevin Bohl and current resident deputy Jim Fansett. Their boss, Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman, was also in attendance and thanked community members for their dedicated assistance to law-enforcement officers. Sheriff Wittman introduced Captain Dahl Cleek, who also commended Three Rivers for working well with law enforcement.
   At the conclusion of the program, Sheriff Wittman, Kevin Bohl, Jim Fansett, and Glenn McIntyre were presented with certificates and plaques in appreciation for their selfless community service, as were Greg Fox (former resident CHP officer), Mark Berlin, and Jason Baillee, who were not in attendance. The plaques were created by Dave King of Three Rivers, who is also a VIP.
   The event’s organizer, Leah Catherine Launey, presented the men with vouchers for a complimentary night’s stay at Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast, which she owns and operates with her husband, Peter Sodhy.
   Refreshments were provided by the Village Market, Three Rivers Historical Society, and the SFCC. Classical guitar music was provided by Jesse Belman of Three Rivers.
   The final Heroes Appreciation Months celebration will be held Friday, March 27, 7 p.m., at the SFCC office in the Three Rivers Historical Museum. March honorees will be past and present members of the military. The events are free and open to the public.
   Information: 561-4270.


Weekly tip

   For men only: Prostate health. Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in a man’s prostate gland. The prostate sits just below the bladder and makes part of the fluid for semen.
   In young men, the prostate is about the size of a walnut. It usually grows larger as men grow older.
   Prostate cancer is common among men older than 65. Most cases are treatable because they are found with screening tests before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
   Although most men may die with prostate cancer, most men do not die from it.
   Medical experts don’t know what causes prostate cancer, but they believe that age, genetics, and race affect a man’s chances of getting it.
   A man should see his doctor for a checkup if experiencing one or more of the following:

  —You have trouble starting your urine stream.

  —You have a weaker-than-normal urine stream.

  —You cannot urinate at all.

  —You have to urinate often.

  —You feel like your bladder is not emptying completely when you urinate.

  —You have pain or burning when you urinate.

  —You have blood in your urine.

  —You have a deep pain in your lower back, belly, hip, or pelvis.
   The most common way to check for prostate cancer is to have a digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. A higher level of PSA may mean prostate cancer, but it could also mean that the patient has an enlargement or infection of the prostate.
   If your PSA is high, or if your doctor finds anything in the rectal exam, a biopsy may be necessary. Because many men have regular checkups, about nine out of 10 prostate cancers are found in the early stages.
   Prostate cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, or a combination. If 70 or older and the cancer has not spread, men may be provided with the option to postpone treatment in lieu of regular checkups to see if the cancer has changed.
   Here are some ways to keep the prostate healthy:

  —Eat a low-fat diet. Men who consume large amounts of saturated fat from meat and dairy products are especially vulnerable to prostate cancer.

  —Studies have shown that supplements of vitamin E (typical dose: 400 milligrams per day) and selenium (200 mcg/day) may dramatically reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

  —Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management seems to provide protection against prostate cancer, as well as a wide range of other diseases.

  —Soy products and flaxseed both show promise as prostate cancer fighters.

  —Going easy on caffeine and alcohol and avoiding all beverages two hours before bedtime may help reduce urinary problems caused by an enlarged prostate.

Speaking Out:

Protecting Tulare County’s native oaks
by Laurie Schwaller

  You can help RIGHT NOW to protect Tulare County’s native oaks and oak woodlands.
   WHAT’S THE ISSUE? Currently, Tulare County has no ordinance and no management plan to protect its highly beneficial native oak trees and oak woodlands. Because our oaks and oak woodlands are critically important to the health, safety, economy, and welfare of the County, both now and for our future, Tulare County should adopt an oak woodlands management plan and an oak ordinance. (The City of Visalia has had an oak ordinance for many years.)
   The county Planning Commission has directed the Planning Department to report to the Commission at its Wednesday, March 11, meeting regarding this issue.
   WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Contact the Planning Commission and your county supervisor to urge them to support these actions. You can also attend the Planning Commission meeting next Wednesday and speak on behalf of these actions.


Tulare County Planning Commission
5961 S. Mooney Blvd.
Visalia, CA 93277-9394
Phone (559) 733-6291

Tulare County
Board of Supervisors
2800 W. Burrel Ave.
Visalia, CA 93291
Phone (559) 636-5000

  WHY ARE OUR NATIVE OAKS AND OAK WOODLANDS SO IMPORTANT? Oaks and oak woodlands provide many important FREE services that benefit all of us, economically, environmentally, and aesthetically. They enhance property values, help to moderate temperatures, clean our air, sustain water quality, buffer sound, provide natural screening, beautify landscapes and neighborhoods, provide critical habit for thousands of species of animals and plants, improve the soil, serve as windbreaks, provide many types of recreational opportunities, attract tourists, are historically and culturally significant, play an important role in helping deal with the effects of global climate change, provide wood (when sustainably managed), help to control flooding, and are good for our health and sense of well-being.
   However, our oaks and oak woodlands are threatened by land conversion to insensitive and intensive urban and rural uses, the building of new roads and other infrastructure, lack of regeneration (few young oak saplings surviving to replace existing old oaks), unsustainable firewood harvesting, intensive agricultural development (such as orchards and vineyards), increasingly limited access to groundwater in some areas; and clearing for fire protection around developed areas.
   Oaks take a long time to grow; once they’re removed, it takes a long time to replace them. During that time, the numerous free benefits afforded by mature trees and woodlands are lost.
   Recognizing the importance of native oaks and oak woodlands, the State of California and many counties and municipalities have worked to protect them. Many counties have adopted an “Oak Woodlands Management Plan,” under the California Oak Woodlands Conservation Program, which offers opportunities to obtain funding for projects designed to conserve and restore oak woodlands on a regional priority basis.
   It supports and encourages voluntary, long-term private stewardship and conservation of California oak woodlands by offering landowners financial incentives to protect and promote biologically functional woodlands. To qualify, the county where applicants are applying for funding must have an oak woodlands management plan.
   It’s time for Tulare County to adopt a Plan and make these benefits available to its residents and landowners.
   WHY SHOULD TULARE COUNTY HAVE AN OAK WOODLANDS MANAGEMENT PLAN AND AN OAK ORDINANCE? Remember that the Oak Woodlands Management Plan supports voluntary, long-term private stewardship and conservation of California oak woodlands by offering landowners financial incentives to protect and promote biologically functional woodlands.
   An Oak (or Native Tree) Ordinance can cover any number of trees, from individual trees to urban forests. Typically, oak ordinances prohibit needless destruction of trees, provide guidelines for care of trees and their proper removal when necessary, and impose penalties or mitigation measures for failure to comply with these requirements. The City of Visalia’s oak ordinance could serve as a starting point for drafting an ordinance for the County. View it online via the City of Visalia’s web page (Municipal Code, Chapter 24, Title 12).
   WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION? Here are a few good sites to get you started:
   State of California Wildlife Conservation Board, Oak Woodlands Conservation Program (www.wcb.ca.gov).
   University of California, Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (http://danr.ucop.edu/ihrmp).
   California Oak Foundation (www.californiaoaks.org).
   Laurie Schwaller resides in Three Rivers.


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
© Copyright 2003-2009 The Kaweah Commonwealth