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In the News - Friday, MAY 25, 2007

Local tour operator

goes green

   Sequoia Sightseeing Tours (SST), a family-owned tour company that has been operating in Three Rivers since 2001, is adding a new tour and a new vehicle and just got a little greener in the process. To kick off the 2007 summer visitor season, owners Paul and Becky Bischoff unveiled a new tour from Wuksachi Village in Sequoia National Park to Kings Canyon and also plans to convert a new company vehicle to bio-diesel.

  “With all the publicity about the start up of the new park shuttle in Giant Forest we wanted our clientele to be aware that our niche is changing,” said Paul Bischoff. “We are expanding our specialized tours to include a park-to-park package to Kings Canyon and do our part for the environment too.”
   Paul, who was raised in the Sanger area, has spent all his working life in the local parks. He is an acknowledged expert in backpacking, backcountry skiing, and kayaking — all of which contribute to his growing legend as a Sequoia Park guide.
   When he’s not helping visitors enjoy the nearby parks, Bischoff is an avid telemark skier, hiker, river rat, and has summitted many of the southern Sierra’s highest peaks. While formerly employed at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp as a backcountry host and a ski instructor at Wolverton, he assisted park rangers on numerous search-and- rescues.
   In the 1990s, Paul met Becky in Sequoia where she also worked at Bearpaw. Now parents of two children with another on the way, the Bischoffs have developed Sequoia Sightseeing Tours as an outlet to share their park experiences with all who want to cut right to the essence of the very best that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have to offer.

  “We’d be shortsighted not to see that our business will be affected by the shuttle experiment that will connect the Valley and Giant Forest,” said Paul. “We’ll adjust to what they do and add some new tours that will depart from Wuksachi. Park officials have been very cooperative, ensuring that we can operate where they can’t and continue to offer a unique experience to our clientele.”
   The bio-diesel conversion, Paul said, is something the company has had in the works for awhile. Now that SST has purchased a new eight-passenger Suburban earmarked for the Kings Canyon tours, the plan is to convert to a bio-fuel made from recycled kitchen oil, a byproduct from restaurants.

  “The bio-fuel is a renewable resource that produces less nitrates than gasoline, a catalyst for ozone production,” said Paul. “On warm summer days when ozone levels are highest, we’ll be helping to reduce emissions.”
   SST already reduces emissions just by getting their clients out of their personal vehicles and into the company’s vans. According to environmental impact estimates for 2003-2005, SST has saved 2,084 gallons of gasoline and prevented the emission of 40,771 pounds of carbon dioxide, assuming that their clients were to drive a double-occupancy vehicle instead of taking a group tour.
   An underlying agenda, Paul said, is to provide park visitors with an overall view of responsibility.

  “First and foremost, we want our customers to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the parks and then become a little more aware of the natural history, the ecosystems, and the conservation issues that are important to us all,” Paul said.
   For more information, call SST at (559) 561-4189 or visit them on the web at

Shuttle launch:

Visalia to Sequoia route has begun

   The new Visalia-to-Sequoia shuttles made their inaugural runs Wednesday. The 16-seat vans will make five roundtrips daily with stops in Three Rivers at the Comfort Inn and the Memorial Building. For reservations, go to

Parks ready for

Memorial Day rush

   With shuttles and tours available for Memorial Day and throughout the summer, in a perfect world that would mean more people visiting, but less cars. Watch for the summer-wrap report after Labor Day to see if that scenario plays out.
   For now, all roads are open in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. If planning to camp in the parks this holiday weekend, however, plan to arrive early as campgrounds are expected to fill.
   Speaking of roads that are open, Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park opened Friday, May 11. Officially known as Highway 120, the road crosses the Sierra over 9,932-foot Tioga Pass between Crane Flat and Lee Vining. Usually one of the last roads to open for the season in the Sierra, due to this year’s meager snowpack the road experienced its earliest opening in two decades.
   Hikers will enjoy snow-free trails as well except at the very highest peaks and passes. Up to 9,000 feet in elevation is mostly snow-free, depending on exposure.
   Rivers are lower than usual and have already reached peak flows, but they are still in spring- runoff mode and should be considered dangerous. Everyone must use extreme caution in the vicinity of the swift-flowing water and children should not be allowed near the riverbanks.
   Whether camping or just daytripping, proper food storage is important to keep the park animals wild and minimize their encounters with humans.
   Also, when traveling to Sequoia or Kings Canyon, knowledge of mountain driving is necessary. Use low gears, even in a vehicle with an automatic transmission, to avoid riding the brakes when going downhill. If the brakes are allowed to get too hot, such as from overuse, they will eventually quit working.
   If it is necessary to stop for a lengthy period of time, such as in road construction, do not let the engine idle with a foot on the brake. Instead put the vehicle in park, set the parking brake, and turn off the engine. This will let the brakes cool instead of get even hotter.

Two indicted in

Sequoia pot-cultivation bust

   Law enforcement personnel use two important indicators to measure progress in the war on pot growers. One is the thousands of plants eradicated and also the number of suspects arrested.
   Until recently, growers were rarely arrested as most that tended the remote gardens on public lands were long gone when law officers arrived.
   If the statistics relative to the season’s first major bust in Sequoia Park are any indication then park rangers are reversing that trend and are off to a great start in the current season. Two defendants, who were arrested in connection with the most recent Sequoia Park pot garden bust, were named in indictments handed down by a federal grand jury in Fresno on Thursday, May 17.
   Salvador Pineda-Penaloza, 27, and Augustin Gutierrez Martinez, 19, both Mexican nationals, were charged with conspiring to manufacture, to distribute, to possess with the intent to distribute, and possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute.
   In addition to the arrests, a car was confiscated and 17,334 marijuana plants and 800 seedlings were removed during the May 8 raid of a garden complex in the Elk Creek drainage, just down-canyon from Potwisha Campground. The seizure represents the largest in Sequoia National Park in connection with a case where suspects were indicted.
   The season’s first major bust also was one of the largest in the history of the National Park Service. According to Karen Escobar, assistant U.S. Attorney and a prosecutor in the case, if convicted, the defendants face a prison sentence of 10 years to life and a fine of $4 million per each count.
   Chief Ranger J.D. Swed said Sequoia’s park rangers are now dealing with a genetically-engineered pot plant that is capable of producing two crops in a single growing season. The seeds, he said, are readily available on the Internet and sell for as much as $15 apiece. They are guaranteed to produce only the potent female plants.

  “The growers are here because it was relatively easy in the past,” Swed said. “The North Fork and the South Fork and all the isolated areas of parks are really high on my radar screen. As Chief Ranger, I’m committed to giving the parks back to the people.”

Woman’s Club welcomes

prospective members

   The 91-year-old Three Rivers Woman’s Club is getting ready to go into its annual summer hibernation. But that’s not before they hold their biggest bash of the year.
   The end-of-year annual luncheon will be held at St. Anthony Retreat on Wednesday, June 6. A wine and cheese reception will begin at noon with lunch following. The 2006-2007 officers will bid farewell as outgoing president Evelyn Thompson announces the 2007-2008 slate of directors.
   All women of the community are invited to attend and consider joining the club. Benefits of membership include monthly meetings and an opportunity to volunteer at The Thingerie, the Club-operated thrift store.
   Annually, the Club provides thousands of dollars to local causes, most notably scholarships to graduating Three Rivers School eighth-graders and Three Rivers seniors from Woodlake and Exeter high schools.
   Luncheon tickets ($10) must be purchased by May 31. They are available at The Thingerie or by calling 561-4883.


Bike Month celebrated in Sequoia

   There’s something about spring that gets me excited about bicycling. The weather is mild, the air quality is still good, the hills are covered in wildflowers, and the river is lively. The League of American Bicyclists probably had similar feelings when they chose to designate May as National Bike Month over 50 years ago.
   Why ride? Here’s how some Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks employees answered that question:
   Bob Basham: "I started biking as a means to augment my running; a cross-training routine. Over time, I have found that the challenge of biking, the camaraderie of friends on the road, and the pure joy of seeing the countryside from the bicycle seat rather from an enclosed car was just what I was looking for in a sport."
   Anna Echter: “I’ve been riding a bike as my sole form of wheeled transportation for 18 years. It’s cheap, a great way to exercise, and fun – it’s hard to imagine ever owning a car again.”
   Tom McGinnis: “I ride because it's a fun way to get exercise, clear my head, and use less gas.”
   Phil Van Mantgem: “I ride my bike to get outside and do something good for myself. Also it gets me in touch with the landscape around here — hilly!”
   Bike Month is a chance to discover for yourself or share with others all of the great reasons to ride a bicycle. Biking is great exercise. Bicycling is a fun way to explore the outdoors. Riding a bike doesn’t pollute the air and doesn’t require filling up your gas tank. Bicycling is an efficient way to commute.
   When was the last time you rode a bike? When was the last time you rode a bike instead of driving? This May, or anytime, I encourage everyone to discover (or rediscover) how rewarding cycling is. The League of American Bicyclists has a great website ( with information on bike maintenance, rules of the road, tips for commuters, and more.
   Erik Frenzel is a biological science technician at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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