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In the News - Friday, March 29, 2013




Acting superintendent appointed at Sequoia-Kings Canyon


  National Park Service officials named Woody Smeck, deputy superintendent at Yosemite National Park, to serve a 120-day detail as acting superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Smeck officially assumes his new post on Sunday, April 7.

Smeck, who prior to coming to Yosemite in 2012 served 21 years at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, 11 as superintendent. Smeck, 50, has had a distinguished Park Service career spanning three decades, starting right out of graduate school at Cal Poly Pomona where he received a degree in environmental planning. 

  During his tenure as superintendent at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the patchwork of federal, state, local, and private lands stretching from Point Mugu to West Hollywood was transformed from a little known unit to what some now call the model urban park.     

  Smeck did it by directing a team of scientists who demonstrated that the park is an ecological oasis surrounded by urban development. He helped broker an agreement between California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to manage several recreational areas as one unit.

  The 120-day detail does not necessarily mean Smeck’s job at Ash Mountain will become permanent. But it does mean Sequoia and Kings National Parks will have some experienced leadership during the busiest part of the visitor season.

  After Craig Axtell retired in 2009, Jeff Bradybaugh served  a 120-day detail as acting superintendent at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. While in the interim role, Bradybaugh applied for the permanent post.

  That appointment went to Karen Taylor-Goodrich in February 2010. Bradybaugh became the superintendent at Bryce Canyon National Park in October 2010 and currently remains in the top post at that Utah park.


Christian Cabanilla: 1978 ~ 2013

Alaska heli-skiing pilot, backcountry guide,

mountaineer, world adventurer


The path less traveled is less traveled for a reason — it requires courage to march to the beat of a different drum. Sometimes it can be a lonely trek because very few will understand why you don’t walk the popular, well-trodden path like everybody else. But you know you can’t. Your heart won’t let you. You must be true to yourself. And your regrets will be few. For at the end of your life, you will look back at your short journey, and with a satisfied smile, quietly acknowledge that it could never have been any other way. —Christian Cabanilla (1978-2013)


  “He died doing what he loved” is little consolation for the family and friends of Christian Arcadio Harald Cabanilla. The 34-year-old with the dazzling green eyes and perpetual smile leaves a void that can hardly be filled with reassuring phrases.

  Christian was born December 21, 1978, the winter solstice. So it was natural that he would follow the snow.

  He spent his early years in Three Rivers, so he also grew to love big mountains. Christian attended Three Rivers School through the fourth grade before moving with his family to Visalia. He graduated from Redwood High School in 1996.

  When Cerro Coso Community College opened its Mammoth Lakes campus, Christian was in the pioneer class, staying with his older sister, Petit, who lived there at the time. As a student in the college’s first graduating class, Christian advanced his education while taking advantage of the world-class snowboarding just minutes from campus. And so it was that snowboarding became his career path and lifelong passion.

  Following college, Christian hit the road in his Toyota Dolphin Camper. It was no surprise that he eventually found his way onto the Al-Can Highway, heading north to Alaska.


Snow means yes

  When meeting with Christian’s brother, Anthony Pinson, last week, he read a quote that had been popping up regularly on Christian’s iPad: “Don’t take no for an answer.” This mantra directed Christian as he dug in his heels at Valdez, Alaska, and decided he was going to be a backcountry guide.

  At first, the professional guide services didn’t take him seriously. But Christian was relentless. If he wasn’t invited to a meeting, he would watch through a window, Anthony said. He did the grunt work and menial tasks as he learned the ropes of the business. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.

  As Christian advanced toward becoming a certified guide, he figured that being a licensed helicopter pilot would make him indispensable. He was told it couldn’t be done; pilots usually receive their training in the military since obtaining a license requires hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. But, again, Christian wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he was a licensed helicopter pilot by his 25th birthday.


High-flying guide

  In addition to transporting heli-skiing clients, as a commercial helicopter pilot, Christian flew glacier sightseeing tours, fought wildfires, and provided aerial support for mineral exploration. He made a name for himself in the extreme-adventure industry, flying and guiding with several Alaskan expedition companies before landing at SEABA (Southeastern Alaska Backcountry Adventures).

  Christian settled in the small community of Haines in the Alaska panhandle and was one of the only heli-pilot/guides in the business. He was doing what he loved while getting paid.

  His name became part of local heli-skiing terminology. To “Cab it” means to perform at a level of technical perfection. To “Cab the LZ” is to dig out and create the optimal landing zone in what would otherwise be a difficult spot to land and retrieve clients.

  Not only was Christian living the life that others might only imagine when watching a Warren Miller film, he also once worked as the pilot during one of the iconic filmmaker’s excursions into Alaska’s epic wilderness to shoot footage of skiing and the stunning photography for which his movies are renowned.

  For the past decade, Christian explored Alaska’s pristine high country via the off-trail sport known as heli-skiing (or boarding, depending on the user’s preference of equipment), where a helicopter takes the place of a ski lift to ferry clients back and forth on a remote mountain far from any resort. A helicopter eliminates the need for skiing into the virgin wilderness to access the best powder, the longest descents, and the vertical terrain with its precipitous slopes, natural contours, rock cliffs, glaciated peaks, crevasses, steep chutes, and other natural features unaltered by man or snow-grooming machine.

  Christian worked and played in an uncontrolled environment, which is always accompanied by risk, but he took precautions to keep him and his clients safe. He held an Avalanche Level III certificate through the American Avalanche Institute, a Crevasse Rescue certificate, and was certified as a Wilderness First Responder.


Globe trekker

  Because winter isn’t perpetual, even in Alaska, Christian followed his favorite season around the world. Over the past several years, he visited (and guided in) Antarctica, Patagonia, points in the Lower 48, and the French, Swiss, and Austrian alps. Once in awhile, he would be lured by warm weather, traveling to Fiji and even returning home to his roots one summer and, always the guide, working for Frank Root at Kaweah White Water Adventures in Three Rivers. He returned to Three Rivers throughout his life to spend holidays and other gatherings at the family’s riverside home.

  Last December, Christian flew to Chamonix, France, a place he had visited eight years before with his sister, Petit (Pinson) Marchi. Chamonix is a magnet for high-altitude mountaineers, as the town is perched on the north side of the summit of Mont Blanc (elevation 15,781 feet).

  While there, Christian met Cedric Bernardini, a professional photographer and native of the region who became the escort for the amiable Alaskan guide. The two happily skied and boarded their way through France and Switzerland, parting ways as new best friends.


Mountain tragedy

  Christian made a promise to host Cedric in Alaska, so as February 2013 was waning, Cedric landed in Juneau for a heli-skiing adventure. Christian was waiting at the airport and whisked Cedric off to Haines, where the SEABA crew was lined up to show him the wild, remote, and limitless Alaskan backcountry rivaling anything Chamonix could offer.

  After several days of stormy weather, Sunday, March 3, 2013, dawned mostly clear and sunny. Christian, Cedric, and three other men were flown to the Takhinsha Mountains, which tower over the Kicking Horse River basin about 10 miles southwest of Haines — Cedric and two Alaska locals were the clients; there was a lead guide and Christian, who was the tail guide that day. The group had already accomplished three glorious runs when they were dropped off on a ridgetop about noon for their final descent. The helicopter hovered nearby as the five worked their way into position on the razor-edged band that overlooked the valley a couple thousand feet below. 

  Cedric hung back and snapped a photo of the rest of the party. Seconds later, there was a whumpf and the mountain gave way, dropping four of the skiers into an abyss.

  It wasn’t just snow, but an entire 40-by-10-foot section of the mountain that came down and swept Christian and the others down a steep chute. Christian fell about 600 feet, according to Anthony, and died of blunt force trauma to the torso.

  Cedric sustained hip and nose fractures as well as deep lacerations and contusions on his face and head. The other snowboarder in the party had multiple femur fractures.

  The third client was wearing an avalanche airbag that he deployed and, although swept down the mountain, wasn’t injured. The lead guide was on the other side of the crack and watched helplessly as did the helicopter pilot from above.

  In an article published June 13, 2011, in ESPN’s X Games magazine, Christian told the interviewer that flying was more stressful than skiing. “There are more things that can go wrong, more things that you worry about,” he said.

  At the fateful moment, however, Christian wasn’t flying, and he didn’t even have on his board. He was just standing there. But he was in the mountains he loved, surrounded by snow and friends. It’s exactly where he wanted to be.

* * *

  Christian will be forever missed by his mother, Inge-Maria Cabanilla, of Visalia; father Arcadio Cabanilla of Palm Desert; brother Anthony Pinson and fiancé Erin Farnsworth of Venice and Three Rivers; sisters Petit (Pinson) Marchi and husband David of Bend, Ore., and Stephanie Crawford and husband Christian of Visalia; two nieces Lillyanna and Lauren Crawford; nephew Talus Marchi; and an uncle and his grandmother, Herta Frolich, in Australia.

  A gathering in memory and celebration of Christian will be held Saturday, April 13, from 3 to 7 p.m., at Cort Gallery in Three Rivers. To correspond with the family, email CabFamilyMemorialFund@gmail.com.


Family HealthCare Network

founder to speak at Town Meeting


  The monthly Town Hall meeting will convene Monday, April 1, and at the top of the agenda is a presentation by Harry Foster, president and CEO of Family HealthCare Network. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Three Rivers Memorial Building. 

  Foster is the founder and longtime chief administrator of Family Healthcare Network. He is one of the guiding forces behind the building of the local network of health centers that started in a trailer on the site of a struggling Porterville clinic more than three decades ago.

  Today, Family HealthCare Networks operates 11 health centers (10 in Tulare County; one in Hanford) with more than 700 employees. It has evolved as an alternative healthcare provider offered as a model critical to the success of the three-year old federal Affordable Care Act.

  Harry was a longtime colleague and friend of Dr. A.J. Rice (1943-2012), a physician in Three Rivers for 31 years. In 2005, Harry worked out a deal with Dr. Rice and merged his Three Rivers practice with the new Family Healthcare Network center in Three Rivers.

  But the path to Three Rivers, Harry said, was a long and winding road. It actually began when Harry made a life-changing career decision to relocate to Tulare County.

  During the post-Vietnam era of the 1970s, Harry found himself as a successful administrator at a Utah hospital with all the trappings of the American dream. It was obvious to Harry, however, there was more to life and he suddenly quit his job and began to look for work elsewhere.

  “I guess what steered me down this career path was being raised by a single mom who had absolutely no assistance,” Harry recalled. “I wanted to serve the underserved.”

  That quest for new opportunity and job fulfillment led Harry to Tulare County, a place he remembers as getting lots of publicity because of Cesar Chavez, who was helping local farmworkers get the assistance they needed. On weekends, Harry began visiting the farm labor camps to see what was going on and try to determine what could be done.

  “It turned out that the folks who needed the assistance most were farmworkers,” Harry said.                

  Now in the twilight of an iconic career spent helping others, Harry finds himself as an expert on the Affordable Care Act, though admittedly he says no one person knows for certain where this healthcare industry ride will take the nation. As a helpful aid to demystify some of the oft-asked questions, Harry will present a nine-minute video produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation entitled “Healthcare Reform hits Main Street.”

  Also on the April 1 agenda are updates from county Supervisor Allen Ishida, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce.

  The meeting is free and open to the public.


Assistance offered for thistle infestations


  The Tulare County Weed Management Area will treat infestations of yellow starthistle and other broadleaf weeds with an effective and selective herbicide that has been proven to stop the spread of yellow starthistle.

  The WMA is charging $50 for the first one to three acres and $15 per acre for more than three acres. Three Rivers is one of the target areas for control because it is along the leading edge of the yellow starthistle’s progress up the mountains.

  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, and waste areas. 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.

  The invasive species grows to heights from six inches to five feet and forms dense infestations while rapidly depleting soil moisture, thus preventing the establishment of other plants. Infestations eventually become so dense that the land is lost for grazing, wildlife habitat, recreation, or simply as a viewscape of native vegetation.

  Many small-acreage landowners have difficulty controlling yellow starthistle due to the expense, knowledge, and equipment required. This current eradication effort allows small landowners the opportunity to control the weeds on their property by participating in the cost-share program.

  The TCWMA is an organization of cooperating agencies formed to reduce the increasing populations of noxious weeds in Tulare County in order to protect the habitat and rangeland values of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Sequoia National Forest from the spread of yellow starthistle and other invasive, noxious weeds.

  To make arrangements to treat an infestation, call the UC Cooperative Extension at 684-3300 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.). After business hours, leave a message at 684-3349 with a call-back number and best time to call.

  Don’t procrastinate because the program will only be in effect until about the first week of May. After that, yellow starthistle and other noxious weeds become too mature to control readily.


Local parks seek summer volunteers


  Several opportunities are available this summer for those who would like to spend time assisting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks while gaining some valuable experience.

  River Rovers— Drowning is the leading cause of death in the local national parks. The reduce this statistic, the local Park Service utilizes volunteers to contact visitors and provide them with information about river hazards and more.

  This position requires walking and standing. Rovers will carry a radio for use in case of an emergency or if illegal or improper activity is observed. The knowledge of a language(s) in addition to English is desirable. Must be willing to commute to/from the Three Rivers area.

  Campground hosts— In exchange for volunteering in this position at one of the many campgrounds in Sequoia-Kings Canyon, a free RV or tent site is provided. Hosts assist campers with registration, finding a campsite, and visitor information while ensuring everything runs smoothly at the campground. Minor maintenance may be required as directed.

  Videographers— Creating podcasts and other public-service announcements, using video-editing software, taking scenic shots of the parks, obtaining signed permission releases from visitors as necessary, and more are part of the job description of this volunteer position. Must be willing to commute to/from the Three Rivers area.

  Other volunteer positions available for the upcoming summer season include: photo/video organizers, outreach assistants, wilderness desk/trailhead volunteer, and public affairs assistants.

  For more information and to apply for a position, visit www.volunteer.gov


Photo contest ongoing


  Shooting is being allowed in the national parks. Of photos, that is.

The 10th annual National Natural Landmarks Program photo contest is now underway. Winning photographs will be featured in the 2014 National Natural Landmarks calendar.

  The National Park Service’s National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes significant examples of biological and geological features. They are designated by the Secretary of the Interior and include features on private, state, municipal, and federal lands (not all landmark sites are open to the public).

  Contest entries will be accepted through June 30, 2013; winners will be announced in September. Each photographer may submit up to three entries; each must be from a different national natural landmark. Images of the 13 sites that were selected and are featured in this year’s calendar are not eligible. See those photos at www.nature.nps.gov/nnl/currentwinners.cfm.

  More information about the contest and a list of the nearly 600 designated sites and their accessibility are available at www.nature.nps.gov/nnl/.


If it’s spring, it must

be time to run a 5K


  If the comfort foods of winter were too irresistible or if you know that you just need to get out of the recliner and start moving, there are several upcoming events that might motivate you to embark on or restart a fitness routine.

  It’s been proven that having a goal, such as a race on the calendar, is one of the best ways to stick with an exercise program. And all these events raise funds for good causes.

  Here’s what is coming up:

  Roundup for Hunger (Woodlake Kiwanis): Saturday, April 13, 7:15 a.m. (walk); 7:30 a.m. (5K)— For the fifth year, this laid-back event will offer a 5K (3.1 miles) run around the dirt track at Bravo Lake in Woodlake and a two-mile walk event that takes participants through the Woodlake Botanical Gardens just as the roses hit peak bloom.

Register before April 1 and the registration fee is $20 per person. After that and on race day (beginning at 6:30 a.m.), the fee is $25.

  Register online at www.WoodlakeKiwanis.com. All participants receive a pancake breakfast following the event; the first 100 registrants receive a T-shirt; the first three runners in each 10-year age group receive a medal.

Information: 564-2485.

  Earth Day 5K Trail Run (Sequoia Riverlands Trust): Saturday, April 20, 8:30 a.m.— A run on dirt trails through Kaweah Oaks Preserve. Register online at www.SequoiaRiverlands.org. The fee is $25 for adults (add $5 for race-day registration; opens at 7 a.m.); $15 for children under 13. A race-day T-shirt is guaranteed to those who register before April 10. After-race snacks will be provided. Awards for overall male and female winners and in the 10-year age categories.

  Hang around after the race for the Heritage Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which celebrates the history and culture of the Central Valley (runners receive free admission).

  Cinco de Mayo 5K Run (COS Puente Project): Saturday, May 4, 7:30 a.m.— Held at the College of the Sequoias track in Visalia, the second annual event will benefit COS’s Puente Project, which is part of a nationwide program to increase the number of educationally underserved students who transfer to four-year universities.

  Register by April 30, 5 p.m., for $25 (race-day registration is $35) at www.COSPuente.org.




TRUS alum compete

at annual track meet


by Susan Sherwood


  Friday, March 22, was a great day all the way around at Three Rivers Union School. It was the last day of the third quarter, a minimum day with barbecued hamburgers and a picnic on the lawn for lunch, the day before Spring Break began and, of course, the day of the TRUS track meet for students in grades four through eight. 

  The track meet has been an annual event for at least 50 years. It is a fun, student-centered day.  Students participate in A, B, C, or D class based on their height, weight, and birthdate.

  The classes have been practicing the events during P.E. for the last three weeks. Events included shot put, discus, long jump, standing broad jump, softball throw, high jump, 50-meter dash, 65-meter hurdles, 100-meter dash, 400-meter run, and the mile run.

School records have been kept since 1971, and every year those are updated and posted.   Students aim to break a record and get their name in one of those positions before leaving TRUS.

  This year, as I was moving around the field, I noticed quite a few TRUS alumni watching the events and cheering on the kids.  It was a great sight to see. 

  I love seeing former TRUS students come back to events.  It’s this feeling of loyalty, family, and community that makes Three Rivers School such a great school. 

  I had an idea! Why not try to get the alumni to finish up the track meet with a challenge?

  So I got on the mic and put out the call for alumni to run a 65-meter dash, for old-times’ sake, just to show us that alumni still have it! I got six willing participants: Ben Rothbaum, Danny Kiefer, Kaweah Vines, Meg Johnson, Mike Watkins, and Eme Price.

  The crowd gathered round. The kids cheered and made noise. 

  The alumni ran in two groups of three each and everyone was a winner. They definitely still have it!  

  What a great ending to a great day. Thanks to TRUS staff, parents, students, and alumni for making this day happen. TRUS ROCKS! 

Sue Sherwood is the superintendent/principal at Three Rivers Union School.




THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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