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In the News - Friday, MARCH 16, 2007

Emergency personnel

respond to rescue, fire

   It’s way too early in the season for the record warm temperatures of the past week or to go swimming in the river. But last Sunday afternoon, when Clarence Searcy, an elderly South Fork resident fell 50 feet from a cliff into the river behind his residence, a swift-water team was able to perform what the incident commander called “a very efficient rescue.”
   The bizarre incident began when Searcy, 95, who lives with his son, Lee, went for a walk on the riverfront property in the company of his caregiver, Mike Wright. Searcy is blind and suffers from dementia so he is never very far from one of two caregivers that live on the property.
   When Wright turned away for only a moment, that was all it took for the disoriented Searcy to fall down a sheer cliff into some brush below and then into the shallow river channel. It takes only a few inches of water to drown, not to mention the effects of a fall that could compound the tragedy.
   Wright immediately surmised what had happened and from the ledge above, he spotted Searcy in the water and called 911. He then made his way down to the victim and secured him in the shallow water that was two or three feet deep until help arrived.
Within 30 minutes, Jim Fansett, Three Rivers resident deputy, and several Tulare County firefighters were staging at the scene.
   After rappelling down the embankment, the firefighters were able to carry Searcy to a waiting ambulance where he was transported to a helicopter that had landed at the upper boat ramp at Lake Kaweah. Fortunately, Searcy did not appear to have major injuries but he was flown to University Medical Center in Fresno for further examination and treatment.
   In a separate incident that occurred Tuesday, March 13, firefighters from Three Rivers, Exeter, Lindsay, and Ivanhoe responded to a structure fire at 44762 Hammond Drive. Apparently, the fire started from oil-soaked rags that combusted inside a storage shed.
   The damage to the shed was estimated at $4,000 plus another $40,000 to the contents that consisted of construction tools used in the property owner’s business.
   The initial blaze was extinguished in a few minutes but firefighters remained at the scene for another 90 minutes watching for flare-ups in the area near Mineral King Road that contains substantial brush and steep hillside vegetation.

Slick Rock boat launch

reviewed at Town Meeting

   After more than five years of growth spurts, dashed plans, and false starts, Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah’s general manager, announced last Monday at the Three Rivers Town Hall Meeting that the project is ready to go.

  “We actually thought we would be going to construction last October,” Deffenbaugh said, “but there were some engineering concerns with the entrance road to the new facilities.”
   Deffenbaugh said originally the design called for the access road to the parking lot and launch ramp to be located up-canyon from the existing entrance to Slick Rock. Caltrans had some safety objections and it would have involved a lot more expense to build, Deffenbaugh explained.

  “Caltrans likes the existing entrance to the Slick Rock area better and we won’t need a new turn pocket,” Deffenbaugh said. “What we will have are new facilities located above and behind the Three Rivers entrance sign, and the existing recreation area will be enlarged.”
   In January, the California Department of Boating and Waterways approved a $500,000 increase in a previously approved grant for the project. The supplemental grant became necessary to pay for changes in the project scope and design.
   The revised project consists of the construction of a two-lane, high-water, concrete boat launching ramp; a paved parking area for 30 vehicles/trailers and 11 single vehicles; construction of a new access road; construction of a new four-unit unisex restroom with septic and water system; and adding security lighting, landscaping, and a host site.
   The Army Corps will fund the aluminum-boarding float, landscaping/irrigation, and the host site portions of the project. The entire project is budgeted for $2 million with the Cal Boating grant to provide $1,930,000.
   Deffenbaugh said the lower water levels forecasted for the current season might be have a “silver lining” in that the project will be able to go to construction by August 1.

  “By the end of the summer, you will notice some big changes in the Slick Rock area,” Deffenbaugh said, “and we don’t anticipate any major delays or impacts to traffic on Highway 198.”
   The changes at Slick Rock are not the only changes planned this summer for Three Rivers. Starting with the Memorial Day weekend and running throughout the summer until Labor Day, the City of Visalia will be running shuttle buses between the Visalia downtown area and the Giant Forest Museum parking lot in Sequoia National Park. Details as to how Three Rivers residents and visitors will use this shuttle service are yet to be determined.
   Alexandra Picavet, information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, said the mild winter weather has helped to keep the current road construction along the Generals Highway on schedule. Picavet said the current project, a 1.5-mile stretch between Big Fern Spring and Amphitheatre Point, should be completed by September as stipulated in the contract.

Conservancy workshop

seeking 3R project

   Compared to the higher profile Sierra Nevada towns like Tahoe or Mammoth, Three Rivers is a well-kept secret.
   But Supervisor Allen Ishida, who also serves as a board member on the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, thinks it’s time for a little more exposure, especially when it comes to grants that could help Three Rivers economically while preserving its unique resources.
   So to get Sacramento’s attention focused on Three Rivers, Supervisor Ishida persuaded the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to schedule a March workshop in the area that he believes could make good use of grants that will be doled out in Governor Schwarzenegger’s new program.
   Under the proposed 2007-2008 budget, the conservancy would receive $17.5 million for grants for its initial funding cycle.
   In addition to meetings earlier this week, the conservancy will make a stop Monday, March 19, at the Three Rivers Memorial Building. Via cell phone from Washington, D.C., where he is lobbying for federal funding sources, Ishida said he will attend the upcoming Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s meeting in Three Rivers and also have an update on what he’s been doing on his most recent trips to Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill.

  “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for everyone in Three Rivers to be at the Memorial Building on Monday night,” Ishida said. “The money is there for everything from stream bank restoration to the building of a new transportation/visitor center, and we need to send a message to Sacramento that Three Rivers should be a conservancy partner.”
   Ishida said there’s money available for certified local governments like the Community Services District (CSD), the chamber of commerce, and other nonprofits that can come up with useful projects. He said he thinks that smaller projects like invasive weed control would be a good way to get things going and have the best chance for success in the current funding cycle.
   But he also said that the conservancy is open to all suggestions and to think about the big picture. For his part, Ishida said, he is also talking to Department of Transportation staffers in Washington, D.C., about doing a federal overlay on the scenic highway designation for Highway 198.

  “If we can get federal status on the scenic highway, we open the door to sharing a huge pot of federal money that could be used for land acquisition and developing a multi-use town center that could serve park visitors and commuters too,” Ishida said.
   With the information that is gathered from Monday’s meeting, the conservancy will develop guidelines for all their programs that also include technical assistance to communities to find ways to improve the economic and social wellbeing of the Sierra Nevada region.

  “These public meetings are essential to help us understand local needs and priorities,” said Jim Branham, executive director of the conservancy. “As we look to undertake programs to, among other things, protect natural resources, reduce the risk of catastrophic fire, preserve working ranches, farms and forests and increase recreation and tourism, learning from those that live in communities like Three Rivers is critical.”
   For more information about the Sierra Nevada Conservancy or Monday’s meeting, call (530) 823-4670.

Gas prices on the rise,

no relief in sight

   For the sixth consecutive week, the price for a gallon of gasoline was on the rise. On Monday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that during the week ending March 10, the national average for a gallon of regular was $2.56.
   In California, the average price was nearly 50 cents higher at $3.01 per gallon. In Three Rivers, both the Shell and Chevron outlets offered an identical $319.9 for a gallon of regular with the same price for a gallon of diesel.
   Most stations in the San Joaquin Valley and other parts of Tulare County are also above the $3 threshold while motorists are paying slightly lower than $3 at some independent distributors that feature cash prices or major credit cards only for pay-at-the-pump purchases.
   According to one energy department Internet source, national average prices will continue to rise in the next few weeks, but the rate of increase for California is expected to be less than in areas that currently have the lowest prices.

VFW plans open house

   The local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3939 will host an open house. The event will be held Saturday, March 31, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
   Currently, the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce is celebrating Veterans Appreciation Month during March. Participating retailers are offering 20-percent discounts on lodging, dining, and other services for veterans, both visiting and residents of Three Rivers.
   The open house is free and open to the public and will include some complimentary home-cooking.

Spring means

fire season is on its way

   Some look at the wildflowers and think pretty. Others look at the wildflowers and think weedeating.
   And this is the time of year to start knocking them down. Within the next couple of months, Cal Fire inspectors will begin conducting fire-safety inspections in the foothills of Tulare County.
   State law requires that flammable vegetation be cleared at least 100 feet from around all structures. Also, to maintain a fire-safe home, roofs and rain gutters should be cleared of debris and branches overhanging the house should be trimmed.
   Tractors, motorcycles, lawnmowers, chainsaws, and weedeaters should all be equipped with an operable spark arrester.
   Also, addresses should be clearly visible to emergency-response vehicles.


About Three Rivers School students, by Three Rivers School students

   What does the number 35 mean at Three Rivers Union School? Trophies! What kind of trophies? CyberQuest trophies!
   In fact, Three Rivers Union School has won more trophies in this event than any other school in Tulare County.
   CyberQuest started in 1999. It is a difficult challenge that requires the ability of a team of two to four students putting together a Power Point presentation of no more than 10 minutes on a specific topic. The topics might be scientific, political, environmental, or fanciful.
   Mrs. Merline, Mrs. Matuskey, and Mrs. Sherwood have all been involved in CyberQuest from the very start. Mrs. Merline serves as a technical advisor/coach, Mrs. Matuskey as a coach, and Mrs. Sherwood as a judge. They have helped the students of Three Rivers advance in the areas of technology, public speaking, and research.
   Every fall, teams of students from all over Tulare County come to the Visalia Convention Center to compete in CyberQuest. Close to 800 students gather for this event.
   It gets pretty exciting seeing all of those teams practicing. It also is supremely nerve-racking when you see presentations and they look better than yours. I know this because I have competed for three years now.
   During competition, when my team gets called, we take our laptop to the front of the room and start when the judges tell us to.
   This is when we really feel the pressure. My knees are shaking and my fingers get greasy. When the presentation is over I feel relief. I know that I did my best, and I hope that my best will be rewarded.
   Before the awards are given, our school’s six teams, grades three through eight, are all excited and nervous. We wait with great anticipation as the trophies are handed out. We hear the name of Three Rivers many times. The hardworking Three Rivers CyberQuest teams have been rewarded. We know that in the future the number 35 will grow to who knows what…? Only time will tell.

   On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the last chapter of the Tulare County Spelling Bee odyssey was concluded for me. It was my last Bee on behalf of Three Rivers Union School.
   But for the extremely talented 2007 Spelling Bee champ Chris Wong, his journey is just beginning. He will go on to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., along with receiving a mighty fine cash prize. Of course, it was a well-deserved award; after all, he tackled words like “schottische,” “pfeffernuss,” and “gymkhana,” as well as enduring 16 rounds over four hours.
   At the Bee’s beginning, there were 155 students from across the county. After the first round, 30 of them had left us. Another 30 were gone during the second round, and by the fifth round, only about 60 anxious students were remaining.
   Now, if you have ever entered a Spelling Bee, then you know how it feels to get out on a word, only to find that you really did know how to spell it. It’s a common scenario and I have to admit I experienced it many times, including in this Spelling Bee. The feeling is terrible as you go on to imagine how far you could’ve gone if you had just spelled that word correctly.
   As the number 99 participant, I had to wait awhile for my first word. However, when I did finally get the word “heartsick” and I correctly spelled it, it felt like a humongous weight was lifted off my shoulders, and now I could really appreciate how electrifying this experience was.
   Another round went by and the weight obviously was not lifted high enough, because after I spelled the word “harpsichord,” I heard the terrifying words, “I’m sorry, that’s NOT correct.” My mind was rapidly swimming through mixed and murky feelings; was I sad because it was only the second round, and a easy word at that, or was I happy because I was done with the Spelling Bee, and could move on to do something else? I decided to go with the latter thought.
   I received my certificate and T-shirt with a big smile plastered on my face.
   I looked around the hotel’s conference room where the Bee was taking place. It was a HUGE room with tons of competitors, and an audience of 500.
   I sat down next to my coach to cheer for my TRUS teammate, Cyrus Graber, as he continued to climb the ladder to be one of the top of 30 spellers in Tulare County. He had to undertake many hard words and was so close when he misspelled “diphthong.”
   I can’t even imagine the feeling that Chris Wong experienced as he spelled the winning word “peril.” But I do know that I will always remember the many important skills I learned because of this Spelling Bee and will forever be grateful to have participated in this exceptional experience.

   Each year, Three Rivers Union School band travels to Porterville High School for “Band Festival.”
   In Festival, bands perform three selections of music. Each selection is from a different category of music.
Bands perform in front of three experienced musicians. The judges’ scores are based on the level of music, how well each piece is played, syncopation, tone, accents, and dynamics.
   There are five different ratings, based on how well the bands perform. Each band could receive a “1” which is a superior; “2” for excellent; “3” good; “4” poor; or “5”; which to quote our band director, Mrs. Sweet, “If you get a 5, you better pack your bags and get out of town.”
   The Three Rivers band performed the songs “Sakura,” “Tempest,” and “Liturgical Fanfare.” We performed well with a good tone. Two of the judges gave us “superiors” and the second judge gave us an “excellent”.
   The two “superiors” outweighed the “excellent,” and the TRUS band received a superior rating.
   As well as playing three sheets of music we also have to sight read. To sight read, the band gets a piece of music they’ve never played before, and we have to play it as best as we can.
   Mrs. Sweet picked out the piece “Vandavar Fanfare.” It was semi-simple but not a walk in the park. Unfortunately, we did not do as well sight-reading, but we still performed well.
  After playing our music and sight-reading, we got went back to th e concert room and listened to two or three other bands perform. At the end of the day, we walked out of the Porterville High School with our heads held high and a superior certificate in hand.

   Every February, there is an assignment that hangs over the heads of seventh and eighth- grade students at Three Rivers Union School.
   Although some excel at this assignment, others prefer it to be over as soon as possible. The assignment is Science Fair. Our school holds this competition every year and proudly supports a student, or students, who win the school competition and continue to the County and then State competitions as well.
   As our school Science Fair was recently held, relief flooded over many students. Science Fair was FINALLY over.
   There would no longer be clogged up weekends, endless research, failing experiments, or even working experiments for that matter. No longer would the students of TRUS actually have to work their brains and do in depth thinking on weekends.
   This relief was like no other. The stress the day before the competition was unbelievable.
   Now it has completely disappeared. Science Fair is over.
   The highest scoring projects will be going down the hill to compete in the Tulare County Science Fair event this month.
   The highest countywide scores from that event will travel to Southern California to compete in the California State Science Fair event in May.
   This year’s high-scoring projects were submitted by: Kathryn Keeley, Daniel Keeley, Cyrus Graber, Curtis Beedle, Nathan Wood, Kelly McGinnis, Brian Pfenninger, Shawn Fox, and Jimmy LeFave. For these nine students Science Fair is not over.
   The rest of the seventh and eighth-graders, however, can go back to having normal weekends and calmly enjoy the sunny days without this assignment hanging over their heads.

Leland Keller
1903 ~ 2007

   In the March 9 issue, an obituary was published for Leland Keller that described his years growing up in Kaweah and Sequoia National Park. Leland’s family has since sent additional information that will inform readers about the rest of his long and healthy life.
   Leland Clifford “Kelly” Keller of San Juan Capistrano died Monday, Feb. 26, 2007. He was 103.
   Kelly was born to Carl and —- Keller in Hammond, Ore., on Aug. 16, 2007. The family moved to California when Kelly was very young, and he was raised in Kaweah and Sequoia National Park, where his father was a ranger.
   Kelly moved to Southern California as a young adult, eventually settling in Whittier. He became a well-respected businessman as owner of Keller Paints.
   Upon his retirement, Kelly moved to San Clemente where he could pursue his favorite sport, fishing.
   Kelly was preceded in death by his wife, Bernice; and two children, Russell and Jean.
   He is survived by his son, Forrest Donald Keller; 12 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends.
   A celebration of Kelly’s life was held Saturday, March 3, at Atria San Juan in San Juan Capistrano, where he had resided since June 2004. Family members will be visiting the area in June for a memory walk in honor of Kelly’s love for the area.

Military deaths

  The following are California residents killed in Iraq as announced by the governor’s press office this week:
   U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Christopher R. Webb, 28, of Winchester, was among three soldiers who died Wednesday, March 7, when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee in Baghdad.
Total U.S. deaths—
Iraq area: 3,186
(as of Friday, March 9)
Afghanistan area: 309
(as of Saturday, March 3)

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