this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
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.”
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
Here’s a tip: Bring
Mom and let her pick out her own gift
this Mother’s Day.
Three Rivers Bread Basket food pantry
will sell deep-pit barbecue lunches and
ice cream. Vendor Buddy Jones and friends
will provide Cajun cooking.
will include music from local groups like
Faena Brava and Mankin Creek, along with
dancing, singing, and more.
Student art will be on display and awards
will be presented.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
to learn more about child abuse prevention.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.