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In the News - Friday, May 2, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Rangers chase growers

from Sequoia Park site

   In the past four years, Operation Weed Free has grown from a seasonal eradication effort at harvest time to a year-round schedule to rid Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks of extensive marijuana grow sites. In spring, summer, and fall, park rangers raid these sites and are finding that some of the worst damage to park resources can be minimized if the growers can be thwarted early in the growing season before the camps become fully operational.
   Winter is a time out of sorts as growers use the downtime to scout new sites to plant. Park officials use periods of accommodating winter-season weather for cleanup and restoration of sites eradicated in previous years.
   With the onset of warmer weather, the growers return and rangers begin to see a rise in suspicious traffic in and out of key entry points to areas suitable for growing in the Mineral King district and other park areas. Ironically, on Tuesday, April 22, while many were commemorating Earth Day, park rangers were raiding an early-season pot-growing operation in Sequoia National Park.
   NPS rangers and special investigators — with the help of agents from the Office of Homeland Security, Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies, and the California Highway Patrol — located and removed 7,922 plants, many not even yet transplanted. The officers flushed at least two suspects from the newly established camp and then dismantled the infrastructure of the site, making sure that the growers could not salvage anything that might be helpful in relocating somewhere else.
   The suspects eluded capture by scampering down a steep embankment to a drainage below. Dense cover prevented the suspects from being spotted by a fixed-wing aircraft that was flying in support of the officers conducting the search on the ground.
   Evidence seized from the camp has been submitted to a Drug Enforcement Agency lab in San Francisco. Officers hope that an analysis of the evidence might lead them to an arrest. In the past four years, there have been at least 20 arrests of suspects connected with grow sites in local national parks.
   A spokesperson for Sequoia- Kings Canyon said that this recently discovered location was near other grow sites that have been previously used. The location was not revealed, however, so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
   Early season foothills hikers are advised that illicit pot-growing activity has been reported in the past along all major drainages of the Kaweah River at elevations from 4,000 to 5,000 feet. Any suspicious activity in these areas may be reported anonymously by calling the parks’ toll-free tip line, 1-888-NPS-CRIME.

Camp Zap embarks on 10th year

Lemon Cove outing bonds

kids, cops, communities

   In more than three decades of law enforcement, Chief John Zapalac has put lots of bad people behind bars. But soon after he became Woodlake’s top cop in 1997, he realized that maybe some of these criminals, with some proactive intervention, might not have chosen a life of crime.

  “It’s all about the choices these kids make, and here at Camp Zap we give them the opportunity to make the right choices,” said Chief Zapalac, who recently announced his candidacy for Tulare County Sheriff. “Since we started doing these campouts in 1999, we’ve seen a big reduction in juvenile crime.”
   As early as 2001, Chief Zap, as he is affectionately known throughout the Woodlake community, said they started to see the positive effect of the camps and the relationship-building from these camp experiences.

  “Several of the officers at the county’s juvenile facilities have called me to ask what is going on in Woodlake because they noticed a significant drop in youthful offenders making their way through the detention system,” Chief Zap said.
   After crunching some numbers, Woodlake had realized a 16 percent drop in juvenile arrests in just two years. Chief Zap is convinced that the camping experience these kids had has made the difference for hundreds who learned to say no to drugs and gangs.
   Criminologists know that most habitual offenders begin a life of crime as juveniles. Chief Zap realized that most of these youth aren’t really bad kids, but victims of some bad choices.

  “We want these kids to have chance to do what is right, and from the feedback we are getting from the schools, the parents, and the kids, the camp is making a big difference,” said Chief Zap.
   Since 1999 when Chief Zap opened his Lemon Cove ranch to these campouts, thousands of school-age kids have participated in the overnight campouts. For many, it’s the first night they ever slept in a tent or received any positive reinforcement from an adult in a position of authority.
   But the key, Chief Zap said, is that at each of the four yearly camps, the kids have fun just being kids while getting a very powerful anti-drug and anti-gang message. Chief Zap conservatively estimates that more than 2,000 kids have participated in one or more of the campouts since he has co-hosted with his wife, Minerva, the four annual campouts.
   Most of the campers at more than 30 camps have been from Woodlake, but last weekend (April 26-27) among the 160 fourth to sixth graders who attended were boys and girls from Lindsay, Exeter, Ivanhoe, Seville, Yettem, Stone Corral, and Three Rivers.

  “We work very closely with the schools to target what age groups go and when,” Zapalac said. “We try to reinforce here what they are trying to do there.”
   When the kids arrived last Saturday, following an orientation briefing where the campers got to see a frozen rattlesnake, they were free to move about the 20-acre ranch to explore and play games.   Chief Zap has a couple dozen adult volunteers who assist with meals and all the activities.
   Off-duty Woodlake officers and some cadet Explorers help monitor the campers and make sure they don’t wander too far. The attendees set up and take down tents and are fed lunch, dinner, and breakfast before checking out on Sunday.
   After the evening meal, everyone gathers inside the barn where campers hear from special guest speakers who have become personally acquainted with the justice system due to drugs and gangs. Last Saturday’s program began with role playing by Judge Juliet Baccone and a teenager who played the part of a driver that picked up some guys who fired guns in a drive-by shooting.
Judge Baccone poignantly illustrated how an unsuspecting driver can be guilty by association.

  “Unfortunately, young lady,” Judge Baccone forcefully stated, “I have no choice but to sentence you to some serious jail time.”
   After some interesting questions and answers with the youthful audience, Kenny Willis, a convicted drug dealer turned Youth Authority counselor with Turning Point, lectured the kids on a life of drugs that led him straight to jail. He asked the audience how many had ever used drugs. One hand was raised.
   The final talk of the evening featured Daniel Longoria, an ex-gang member from Porterville, who after serving time for burglary, removed all his tattoos and went back to school. He now works as a youth counselor in Lindsay.
   Longoria told a story about when he was nine and left alone at home after school one day with no supervision.

  “That was when I tried my first cigarette, and I soon realized I could do things that were wrong and nothing would happen to me,” Longoria recalled. “Soon I was doing other wrong things and I started thinking I could get away with anything.”
   Chief Zap said it’s difficult to measure all the good these camps have meant to these kids, many of whom come from some pretty tough circumstances. Each camp costs about $1,000 to facilitate and with the help of Woodlake Rotary and all the volunteers, Chief Zap is amazed of all that’s been accomplished.

  “It’s about relationship building between youth, the community, and the police,” Zapalac said. “The camps are such a positive event in these kids’ lives, but the big payoff is when juvenile crime goes down. When that happens, everybody wins.”

Redbud Festival is more than art

   On Mother’s Day weekend, the Redbud Festival will be at its best with at least 15 new arts-and-crafts presenters joining the dozens of favorites who will have on display all at one venue paintings, photography, gourds, pottery, jewelry, weaving, garden art, and so much more. And, as always, the Redbud Garden Club will be selling plants from the local area.
   Here’s a tip: Bring Mom and let her pick out her own gift this Mother’s Day.
   Food— The Three Rivers Bread Basket food pantry will sell deep-pit barbecue lunches and ice cream. Vendor Buddy Jones and friends will provide Cajun cooking.
   Music— Entertainment will include music from local groups like Faena Brava and Mankin Creek, along with dancing, singing, and more.
   Art contest— Student art will be on display and awards will be presented.
   Scholarships— This past year, the Arts Alliance hosted a dinner in which art patrons enjoyed an elegant and delicious evening all in support of the Lorraine Young Scholarship Fund. To further contribute to the scholarship fund, purchase a “Pick Your Gift” raffle ticket for $1 or six tickets for $5 while at the Redbud Festival. Many artists at the festival donate their creations to be prizes in the raffle.
   The Arts Alliance is pleased to announce that this year, for the first time, homeschooled high school seniors are eligible to apply for the scholarship to further their art education along with other local high schoolers. It isn’t hard to imagine how thrilled the namesake for the scholarship fund, Lorraine Young (1929-2005), would be at hearing this news.
   Lorraine was an integral part in reviving then organizing the Redbud Festival for many years. An exceptional artist who documented local landmarks and landscapes, Lorraine valued passing on the joy she felt creating art and would no doubt be pleased at this recent expansion of the scholarship program.

Taking turns…

   Fallon Souza, a fourth-grader at Three Rivers School, won the 11-and-under Junior Barrel Race at last weekend’s Three Rivers Team Roping. A total of 1,835 teams roped at the Lions Arena, 85 more teams than last year. According to the event’s organizers, the Three Rivers Open roping competition, which has been held for the past four years, grew to 109 teams, an increase of more than 70 percent. Proceeds from the Roping support local Lions Club projects and scholarships.

Around Town

Teacher of the year
B  ob Burke of Three Rivers was honored at the 88th annual “Public Schools Night” on Thursday, April 10, hosted by the Visalia-Mineral King Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons.
   Visalia Unified School District staff were honored in four categories: elementary, high school, administrator, and classified employee. Bob received the Teacher of the Year award for grades nine through 12.
   Bob, a resident of Three Rivers since 1978, is in his 33rd year as a high school history and psychology teacher, most of which has been at Mount Whitney High School in Visalia. He has served as a Three Rivers Union School board member for 15 years and formerly served two years on the Woodlake Union High School board of trustees.

Blue Ribbon Day
   Woodlake’s first “Blue Ribbon Day” celebration last month to raise awareness of child abuse and promote healthy families was a success, according to Greg Gonzalez of the Woodlake Family Resource Center, organizer of the event in cooperation with the Tulare County Child Abuse Prevention Council and the Fresno Regional Foundation, proving that community leadership is critical to preventing child abuse and neglect.
   Participants were treated to information booths, food, and games and activities for the entire family. Bike helmets were presented to children along with other prizes.
   A poster contest, themed “A Good Day With My Family is…,” yielded two young winners, Felicia Gonzalez and Jose Valdez, both of whom were presented with a bicycle.
   Visit www.blueribbonsonline.org to learn more about child abuse prevention.

Model U.N.
   Anna Birch attended the 2008 National Model United Nations in March as one of the 3,500 delegates from around the world. Anna, who was raised in Three Rivers, is the daughter of James Birch and Bettina Birch. She is a senior at Cal State Chico.
   The Chico delegation represented Saudi Arabia and received the Outstanding Delegation Award. Anna and her partner, David Valheiber, won the Outstanding Delegate Award.
   The Model United Nations is held annually in New York City at the United Nations, where the delegates simulate the peace process of an actual U.N. session through diplomacy, debate, and negotiations.
   As Ban Ki-moon, the eighth and current Secretary-General of the United Nations stated at the beginning of the conference, all delegates arrive as students and leave as ambassadors. Anna has been invited to be an advisor for next year’s delegation.


George Mahon
1936 ~ 2008

   George Alexander Mahon, Jr., of Three Rivers died Friday, April 25, of leukemia. George, 71, was surrounded by his children, George, Eric, and Katherine; his sister, Betty Jean; and two of his five grandchildren.
   George was born Oct. 20, 1936, in Chicago, Ill., to George Mahon, Sr., and Elizabeth Carpenter Mahon. He grew up in Chicago and attended Clissold Elementary School and Morgan Park Military Academy (high school), where he excelled in academics and lettered in football, baseball, and wrestling. He rose to the rank of cadet captain and was commanding officer of the Headquarters Company his senior year.
   He attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and graduated with a degree in Math. At Denison, he lettered in wrestling and was a brother at Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
   After graduation, he attended Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and was disenrolled before graduation for failing the eye test. In 1959, he enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years and spent a tour of duty in South Korea. After completing military service, George started his career in the aerospace industry in Southern California, working for SCD and Ford Aerospace.
   On Oct. 16, 1962, he married the former Inez Munoz of El Paso, Texas, and they had three children. In 1973, George and his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colo.
   In 1975, George took a leave of absence from work and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, going from Mexico to Canada in five-and-a-half months.
   Soon after completing the hike, George moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and continued to work in the aeropace industry for Loral, GE, and FMC. In 1997, George retired and moved to Three Rivers to pursue his passion for hiking the Sierra.
   George’s love of the outdoors led him to many of the world’s mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Shasta in California, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, and Mount Rainier in Washington. He trekked across Scotland, hiked the tundra in Alaska, and toured Nepal.
   He had a vast knowledge of the Sierra and loved the High Sierra Trail, once completing it in two days. George used to say that he hiked so much to stay ahead of Father Time.
   He was known as the “Trail Gorilla” for his trail-maintenance work in the Sierra. He also enjoyed kayaking and cross-country skiing.
   He was a docent at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, guiding tours for many area elementary schools and was involved in local conservation. An avid contract bridge player, George had a Masters rating. Because of his love of theatre and movies, he became president of the board of The Fourth Wall theatre group.
   George had a wide circle of friends and was loved by many. He is survived by his three children, George Mahon III of Indiana and Eric Mahon and Katherine Ross, both of the Bay Area; five grandchildren, George, Caitlin, Seth, Nicholas, and Zoe; and sister Elizabeth Jean Nochren.
   George wished to be cremated with no ceremony. His family will be holding a short celebration of his life at his home in Three Rivers on Saturday, June 28, at 11 a.m.


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
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