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In the News -

Friday, March 14, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


We’ve got issues!
13 years worth, actually.

665 to be exact.

   This is the 13th anniversary edition of The Kaweah Commonwealth, although the anniversary date occurred two weeks ago, on March 1.
   The deadlines are relentless and the newspaper pages fill fast each week, leaving us little time and space to tout this milestone. In fact, we never even noticed as anniversary numbers 11 and 12 came and went; we were just too busy compiling the weekly news.
   RECORD-SETTING— But it is worthy to note that this has been the greatest length of time that a Three Rivers newspaper has been continuously owned and/or published. Again, the blame for the demise of any previous newspaper would have to be the deadline constraints, that or the financial wherewithal.
   The equation that has added up to success this time around is: husband + wife = newspaper. Both partners in this venture are writers and also lend their talents for a natural division of labor on the rest of the required tasks to keep a publication and a small business thriving.
   Within the first month of ownership, we were compelled to change the publication day of the newspaper from Wednesday to Friday. We understood that a Wednesday release might provide for planning of weekend events, but we made this decision so that we could have weekends off with our children.
   Honestly, this switch is beyond a doubt the number-one reason for our longevity because it allowed us to effectively balance our personal and professional lives.
   THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING— When we published the first Commonwealth on March 1, 1995, it was still the 20th century, the area code was 209, gas was $1.50 a gallon, the cost of a first-class postage stamp had just been raised from 29 cents to 32 cents, and Bill Clinton was in the White House. There was no such thing as Y2K or 9/11 or an Iraq War.
   In Kaweah Country, there was no bike lane, no Wuksachi Village, no commercial whitewater rafting. We relied on the U.S. mail and a fax machine more than email and the Internet. We never dreamed we’d have a website, and photos were not yet digital; in fact, we used to drive to Visalia every Tuesday evening to develop photos that would be appearing in the newspaper.
   In the past 13 years, we’ve seen three superintendents at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Three Rivers has provided two Miss Tulare County winners when there had previously been none. There was a MAC (Municipal Advisory Committee) and a PTA (founded in 1947), and dining choices still included the venerable White Horse Inn, Noisy Water Café, and The Indian.
   Since that time we’ve reported on births, marriages, deaths, promotions, awards, graduations, contest winners, and retirements, the cornerstone of a small-town newspaper. We’ve covered drownings, missing persons, lost hikers, falls, car accidents, pot busts, ID theft, car clouts, fires, floods, rockslides, break-ins and thefts, and bank robberies.
   Sadly, we’ve written 556 obituaries. But we consider these life stories among the most important items on which we report.
   NEWSPAPER PARTNERS— None of this would be possible without our advertisers, many of which have been with us since day one and have never missed an issue. A newspaper is only as effective as its ad base, and The Kaweah Commonwealth is stellar, if we may say so ourselves. Please support the advertisers within as they understand the importance of a community newspaper and make a weekly investment in the progress of Three Rivers.
   Our subscribers are also among our most faithful supporters. Our subscription list has increased 10-fold from what we inherited from the Sequoia Sentinel.
   In 2001, due to increasing postal rates that, ironically, came with an obvious decrease in service, we were forced to discontinue the free distribution of the newspaper to each post office box and mailbox.
   Local subscribers stepped in, appreciating receiving the newspaper in their mailbox each Friday. These folks are amazingly loyal; we have an astounding 99-percent renewal rate among Three Rivers subscribers!
   Currently, we are seeing a trend among our out-of-town subscribers. There has been a steady decrease since the last postal-rate increase (2007) that forced us to increase the out-of-town rates.
   You see, this is where the “service” is omitted from U.S. Postal Service. At times, it takes more than a week for an issue of the newspaper to arrive to these out-of-town households. In fact, several subscribers don’t want to wait and pay first-class rates.
   Our first priority is the people who are reading the newspaper. Otherwise, why bother?
   So we have dropped the price of the out-of-town subscriptions to see if we can lure some readers back and others to stay. We won’t be making a dime on the mailings; in fact, we’ll lose money because of also paying for the labor of labeling, sorting, and delivery to the post office.
   This decline in postal service and increase in rates (in which there is another due in May 2008) is completely beyond our control. All we can ask is that readers talk to their local post offices and perhaps their newspaper won’t be treated as a piece of junk mail.
   Also deserving of thanks is Nancy Brunson. She has been with us, literally, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, in sadness and in joy for just four months shy of the entire 13 years.
   DOCUMENTING LIFE AND TIMES— We also appreciate our past reporters, columnists, and freelancers:
   Jay O’Connell published 158 articles on local history, first under the heading of “Colony Corner,” which ultimately became his first book, Co-Operative Dreams: A History of the Kaweah Colony (Raven River Press, 1999). Then the feature evolved into “The Corner” and included subjects such as Captain Young and the Buffalo Soldiers in Sequoia, Norman Clyde, Everett Ruess, Mount Whitney Power & Electric, the CCCs (F.D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps), the Eagle Squadron of World War II, and bandits Evans and Sontag, the subject of Jay’s latest book, Train Robber’s Daughter: The Melodramatic Life of Eva Evans, 1876-1970.
   Amy Dolcourt-McElroy filed 65 reports before deciding to devote more time to motherhood. Lisa Lieberman and Lisa McEwen have also provided substantive articles.
   Jean Darsey (1921-2007) wrote 79 “Garden Goodies” columns for the Commonwealth, but this number is much greater considering that the column carried over from the Sequoia Sentinel. Harry Ison also was a carry-over and contributed 27 “Musings” columns, while Kaye Cannarozzi continued from the Sentinel to write four “Heard in Hicksville” installments before we went our separate ways.
   Also in the early years, Jack Harris wrote 32 “On the Sidelines” columns that focused on Woodlake High sports. Mike LaCoss, a retired professional baseball player residing in Lemon Cove, wrote 22 columns entitled “The Inside Pitch.”
   Jack Slater (1961-2006) was a correspondent from the high seas, sending in eight fascinating “Captain’s Log” reports. Keith Edwards, former pastor from Community Presbyterian Church, wrote 17 “A Word on the Word” reports.
   We’ve had travel columns from Tom Marshall, local history by Thelma Crain and Sophie Britten, health and wellness from Holly Crain Peltzer, art disciplines from John Holden and the local Arts Alliance, and financial advice from an A.G. Edwards representative.
   Covering Woodlake High School were three talented students, who were also editors-in-chief of the school’s Tiger Times newspaper. Hijinio Reynoso Jr. wrote 36 articles, then continued to write about college life from U.C. Santa Cruz. Rebecca Godlin and Chris de Castro followed in Hijinio’s footsteps.
   Basically, all of these contributors had other lives and careers. Most wrote without compensation, sharing their columns because they had a passion for their subject, but the deadline eventually takes its toll, causing most to leave the fold.
   THE SERIALS— Several features have been created in the past 13 years, including Visiting Around Town (Sarah) and Makin’ History (John). Also, we have Finding Flowers, the Best of Kaweah Country, and the annual Year-in-Review trilogy. We’ve celebrated many local milestones with commemorative issues, such as 100 Years of Three Rivers (2000), The Power of the Kaweah: 100 Years of Hydroelectricity (1999), and 50 Years Ago: The Christmas Flood of 1955 (2005).
   Roadside Attractions is an ongoing series as space and research allows. And Hiking the Parks, of which there have been 75 installments, is one of the most popular features in the newspaper, based upon the comments we have received. It is our hope that both of these will be books someday but, again, there’s that weekly deadline with which we must contend that makes it difficult to take on extra projects.
   LOOKING FORWARD— When we began this newspaper, our children were ages six and four. At the end of this school year, we will be “empty nesters.”
   As the children fly, so do the years. Join us as we embark on number 14...

Roots and Wings:
A New Beginning

by Sarah Elliott

   The above heading appeared on Page 3 of the first issue of the new Commonwealth on Wednesday, March 1, 1995. The following is how I introduced myself to the community 13 years ago [anything in brackets is a new addition]:
   Welcome to the first issue of the rebirth of The Kaweah Commonwealth. We hope that all who venture into these pages will find subjects that are of interest and will soon be better informed about Three Rivers and its surrounding communities.
   With this initial issue comes a pledge to deliver the news, past and present. It is important to know the current events of this community, whether you live here or are just passing through. It is of equal value to know the history of our area, too. Those who reside in this wonderful place will have pride knowing its unique past. Visitors may travel on, knowing they are informed and feeling they took full advantage of their time here.
   To publish a newspaper has been a dream of mine since before I even realized. I have been guided on this path for over 30 years. The proof is in my Babar book, dated by my mom in 1964. I broke the house rules by getting a pencil and placing punctuation where there was none, correcting grammar, and improving on the cursive handwriting in this classic tale. I will keep this book close to me (unless my children want to borrow it) as I work on this newspaper [13 years later, it is still on display in my office]. It will remind me that this is not a job… it is a labor of love.
   The labor of love is not only in my work. It is directed toward this community in which I was raised. I am the fifth generation of the Barton family to reside in Three Rivers; my children are the sixth.   Though my name has changed now, the family pride is stronger than ever. It’s funny though… my name had to change for me to appreciate my heritage. It was something I took for granted [doesn’t every family stay in the same town for 130 years?] until I met and married a historian.
   I have lived in several different places since my upbringing in Three Rivers. I never felt completely settled, however, but I never knew why. The answer came when my two children began approaching school age. The sense of longing I continually felt was a strong magnetic pull to return home. And home I came.
   I was finally content. Or so I thought. Now that I was here, how could I possibly follow in the footsteps of four previous generations? It’s a difficult act to follow; in my family tree is a Revolutionary War hero (1770s), a Columbia gold miner (1852), Westward ho! pioneers (1866), a Tulare County Recorder (ca. 1860), an owner/publisher of the Visalia Weekly Delta (1875), a Tulare County Supervisor (1880s), a great-great uncle who is said to have milled the first giant sequoia (1870; felled by natural causes, by the way), another who named Lake Isabella (Kern County, 1893), early settlers and ranchers of Three Rivers and Mineral King (1870s), two Woodlake Union High School student body presidents (1918 and 1942), and other regional accomplishments. One characteristic that most of these Bartons had in common was the foresight to document their activities, somehow knowing that they were making history.
   My husband, John, and I are committed to continuing the family tradition, not just writing about our lives, but yours, too. We have a deep-rooted sense of purpose to and love of Three Rivers, Sequoia National Park, Woodlake, and all of Kaweah Country. We strive for a standard of excellence that will provide accurate information in an entertaining format.
   All channels of communication are open, and so is our door. We welcome your thoughts on what a community newspaper should be, as well as your letters and opinions on current events and local affairs.
   Enjoy this historic issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth, and the others that will follow in the weeks, years, and decades to come [ain’t that the truth!].

Makin’ History:
Lucky 13

by John Elliott

   What a long strange trip it’s been these last 13 years. Week in, week out, there’s always something new and often there’s more news than we could ever hope to shoe horn into 12 or 16 pages… and the relentless deadlines.
   We’ve gone through an incredible learning curve catering to the whims of a fickle coverage area. But from the outset in March 1995 we — Sarah and I — made a commitment to upgrade the local newspaper.
   The former newspaper, the Sequoia Sentinel was certainly entertaining and informative in its time, but like any publication that puts itself out there weekly, it had boosters and detractors. It was published sporadically in one form or another from 1971 to 1995.
   We knew it was a bold move to make sweeping changes to a newspaper folks had become used to, but the changes were necessary and, in the long run, for the better.
   In the big picture of what a community newspaper might accomplish, we set some pretty lofty goals. Firstly, we believed that a quality newspaper is a pillar of community that can build consensus and promote the collective interests of the people it serves.
   To achieve these goals, we needed to determine where we were going by better understanding where we have been. In the early days from 1995 to 2000, the Commonwealth offered a more regular dose of local history. Some readers told us we had too much history, others told us to do even more.
   I’ll never forget one early letter we received. It said we should feature the people who live here because there are so many interesting stories. We took that as a challenge to raise the bar on doing the very thing we were doing anyway. Browse any issue past or present and it is literally bursting with people.
   There is a question of the week feature called “Snapshots” with at least five people in 665 issues, less a few score of repeat offenders, which translates to an archive of several thousand mug shots.
   Then there are the more than 600 Neighbor Profiles who not only share incredible insight into their personality and likes and dislikes, but also lend a photographic image in a place or pose that might suggest an interest or an activity that is near or dear.
   Today, there is a wait list for this feature, and the timing is always right for somebody to put a face on a good cause or new business.
   You get the picture. One thing a newspaper cannot help but do, if it’s done professionally and with integrity, is create a unique and valuable archive of its community. For The Kaweah Commonwealth, first published locally in 1890, that has included the people of the past and the present.
   From the outset, we set out to devote more of the local newspaper to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks people, and along the way we would document some of the best attractions and backcountry places on the planet. We always took our kids along on our forays into the parks and were among the very first to take digital cameras into the Sequoia backcountry or to publish on the Internet about backpacking with kids.
   People, places, events, obituaries, births, deaths, graduations... and the archive just keeps growing by leaps and bounds. With the development of TKC Online five years ago, there is no limit to what can be preserved in cyberspace and made available locally and globally.
   When we started this novel experiment of doing the Commonwealth in 1995, our readers were watching what we might write about Mike Tollefson, the new superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon, who just happened to be the subject of my first interview for the inaugural March 1, 1995, issue. Now, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, the whole world is watching 24/7/365, and there are multitudes of potential visitors wanting to know more about this little California gateway to Sequoia National Park.
   When you think of all the towns that no longer have a local paper, then you may grasp the significance of these 13 years. The efforts of all of us — Nancy, who has been with us for 12 years, eight months, Deborah, Tyler, and lately son Johnnie and daughter Jennie — have been outstanding.
   It has no doubt exacted a toll on all who labor under our banner but with our readers’ support and encouragement we can continue for a while longer. How long? Only time will tell, and in the interim, we promise to take you along for one very interesting, unpredictable, ever-changing, fast-moving ride.

River-safety personnel
trained and on high alert

   It’s going to be a high-water year and that historically spells disaster for some unsuspecting recreationists in Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park. In fact, drowning is the leading cause of death in the nearby national parks.
   Last weekend, five local emergency responders — Raymond Russell, Tulare County Fire; David Fireman, National Park Service; Dennis Villavicencio and Steve Mayfield, Three Rivers Volunteer Fire; and Ron Parish, Tulare County Fire — all completed a two-day training course and received certification in Swiftwater Rescue Level 1.
   The in-water portion of the training was conducted in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River near the junction of Hawk Hollow and Sierra drives. The instructor for the course was Sean Johnson, a Fresno City firefighter who facilitates search-and-rescue training for Rescue 3 International.
   The Level 1 course is a preliminary certification that progresses to advanced level rescue and technical rope rescue. Anyone interested in obtaining rescue certification should contact the Three Rivers Fire Station, 561-4362.
   Volunteer opportunity— Also in an effort to avert drownings, the River Rovers program in Sequoia National Park is seeking volunteers this spring to monitor the Kaweah River in the foothills areas of Sequoia and educate visitors about the dangers of the rushing water.
   The park provides the orientation, supervision, uniforms, two-way radios, and all other necessary equipment. Volunteers are not required to be trained in swift-water rescue; they are merely a diversion tactic.
   To volunteer, call Tim Barrett, NPS interpretive ranger, at 565-4212.

Town Meeting hosts

CHP, sheriff’s reps

   Supervisor Allen Ishida told a packed house who attended last Monday’s Three Rivers Town Hall meeting that the county’s new ambulance plan is currently being reviewed by counsel and should go to contract by May.
   Under the current emergency-response system, the first responder, especially in the rural areas like Three Rivers, is a Tulare County Fire Department engine. Nothing’s changed with the new fire department relative to the fact that 70 percent of all fire station calls are medical aids, Ishida said.
   The new ambulance contract will give all the county’s current six providers an opportunity to continue sharing in the emergency services network while keeping response time under 20 minutes.

  “Each ambulance will be equipped with a GPS [global positioning unit] and the closest unit will respond,” Ishida said. “If the new system doesn’t work, then the only alternative is to go with one provider.”
   Under the terms of the new contract, the closest county ambulance to Three Rivers will be stationed in Lemon Cove. The Three Rivers Ambulance, a volunteer company — “One of the best in the county,” Ishida said — will continue to augment the services provided under the new contract.
   Captain Steve Sullivan, the Visalia district’s commander of the California Highway Patrol, spoke briefly and read a prepared statement in response to a claim that its officers do not always act in the best interest of the public that they serve. Sullivan cited statistics that area highways were actually safer in 2007.

  “The number of fatalities in Tulare County declined from 52 in the previous year to 46 in 2007,” Capt. Sullivan said. “In the Three Rivers area during the past year there were 31 collisions investigated, 1,223 citations issued, and no fatalities.”
   His office, he said, was sorry to see Officer Greg Fox, Three Rivers resident CHP officer, retire.

  “We’ve offered a similar position to any officer who might want to live up here,” Capt. Sullivan said, “but given the current real estate prices, nobody has yet expressed an interest in taking the job.”
Lt. Dave Galloway of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department was also on the agenda and said that the department could always use more volunteers for the VIP program. He cited the excellent work and dedicated service of the Three Rivers members who patrol locally and in the Valley.
   Lt. Galloway also detailed the department’s current efforts in their war on gangs, many of whom frequent Lake Kaweah and the recreation sites along the Kaweah River. The current injunctions make it illegal for their members to congregate so they are being encouraged to move away or else go to jail, Lt. Galloway said.
   Lt. Galloway also reminded the audience that the department offers graffiti-removal services.

  “We won’t tolerate gangs in Tulare County,” he said.
   Tom Sparks, who chaired the meeting on behalf of the Three Rivers Village Foundation, said the April meeting will return to its usual first Monday of the month.

There’s help available to

eradicate yellow starthistle

   Yellow starthistle, a native to Eurasia, was introduced to California around 1850 via South America. It is now common in open areas on roadsides, rangelands, wildlands, hayfields, pastures, and waste areas.
   The Tulare County Weed Management Area (TCWMA) will treat small infestations with “Milestone,” a highly effective and selective herbicide that has proven to be effective for the control of yellow starthistle.
   The WMA is charging $50 for up to three acres. The cost for four or more acres is $15 per acre.
   Recent reports indicate that Yellow starthistle infests between 10 and 15 million acres in California. It is a gray-green to blue-green plant with a deep, vigorous taproot.
   It produces bright, thistle-like yellow flowers with sharp spines surrounding the base. Yellow starthistle grows to heights varying from six inches to five feet.
   It often forms dense infestations and rapidly depletes soil moisture, thus preventing the establishment of other plants. Infestations may be so dense that the land is lost to grazing, habitat for wildlife, and recreation. Many small-acreage land owners are unable to control yellow starthistle.
   In Three Rivers, treatments will be made using the spray rig donated two years ago by the local Century 21 office. The weed hotline number for Three Rivers residents is 561-4701.
   To make other arrangements, call the U.C. Cooperative Extension at 685-3303 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. After business hours, leave a message at 685-3309, ext. 236, and you will be called back.
   For more information, contact Jim Sullins at 685-3303. Indicate you are calling about Yellow Starthistle control.
   This program will be in effect only through April 2008.
   The TCWMA is an organization of cooperating agencies that has been formed to reduce the increasing populations of noxious weeds in Tulare County.

February election

now certified

   The Tulare County Board of Supervisors, at their regular meeting on Tuesday, March 4, certified the results of the February 5 primary election. There were no surprises or upsets from the preliminary returns.
   The countywide final voter turnout was 51 percent; 31 percent voted at polling places while 20 percent voted via mail. Sixty-two percent of registered Democrats voted while 55 percent of Republicans cast their ballots.
   Measure C, the Woodlake High School bond issue to improve school facilities, received 61.80 percent of the total votes cast. Fifty-five percent yes votes were needed to pass the $4.41 million measure.
   Tim Hire, superintendent of the Woodlake school district, said that although the tax dollars will not be collected until the next tax year, some preliminary design work will be starting soon.

  “It was a vote for the kids that will benefit the entire community for many years to come,” Hire said. “We are grateful to all who supported the bond issue and especially to those community members who worked tirelessly to get our message out to the voters.”
   In the Democratic presidential race, Senator Hillary Clinton won Tulare County with 59.36 percent of the vote; Senator Barack Obama tallied 30.71 percent.
   In the Republican primary for the presidential nomination, Senator John McCain won the county-wide election with 37.50 percent; former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney finished second with 34.71 percent.
   In other election news, in the District 1 (includes Three Rivers) race for county supervisor, two candidates will face off on June 3. Allen Ishida (incumbent) and Guy Christian, a welfare-fraud investigator who works part-time in the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, have filed for the non-partisan post.
   Four candidates have filed to run in the June 3 Republican primary for the vacant 34th District seat in the State Assembly: Rebecca Maze, Connie Conway, Jon Zellhoefer and Bob Smith. The leading Republican vote-getter will most likely win the seat in the majority Republican district but first must defeat a Democratic challenger in the November 4 general election.


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 2003-2008 The Kaweah Commonwealth