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In the News - Friday, June 5, 2009

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)




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The newly enhanced entrance to the

100-year-old Three Rivers Cemetery.

Three Rivers Cemetery

commemorates 100 years

  Several dozen local residents, members of the cemetery board past and present, and well-wishers gathered last Saturday morning, May 30, to mark a local milestone — the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Three Rivers Cemetery. The peaceful, beautiful setting for the historic occasion couldn’t have been more appropriate.
   The program began with a stirring rendition of Taps played by Gerald Avants, dressed in his U.S. Navy uniform that he wore proudly when he served his country six decades ago. Steve Crigler, the cemetery’s current sexton, delivered remarks prepared by Gary Whitney, who was unable to attend because he was called away to operate construction equipment at a wildfire.
   Whitney, who has been doing cemetery work for many years, was appointed to the board in 2007 and has been responsible for many of the recent improvements to the property, including the project of placing of new markers on previously unmarked grave sites. Reading from Whitney’s prepared text, Crigler recited some of the cemetery’s early history gleaned from the minutes of the 1909 board.
   All of the original members — J.W. Griffes, chairman; Charles W. Blossom, secretary; George Welch, treasurer; Frank Finch and J.C. Carter, trustees; and Isham Mullenix and Henry Alles, associate members — have their final resting places in the Three Rivers Cemetery.
   Crigler pointed out this cemetery site was offered to the community for the sum of $10 by Charles Bahwell. Upon approval, the board gave Bahwell a family plot worth $10 for his generosity, meaning the total cost for the original cemetery was $20.
   As the community increased in size, so did the cemetery. Other parcels were added; currently a lot-line adjustment is in process to add another one-third of an acre to the existing 3.5 acres.
   The Three Rivers Cemetery is always open to visitors, and the investigation of any of its more than 600 interments can furnish important lessons in local history. The first burial (1910) was Milton Montgomery “Mont” Barton, who at age 43 was electrocuted while servicing newly invented irrigation pumps.
   The scenic site contains monuments and headstones that are an important part of local history and furnish insight into the folkways of a nation and its people. The headstone of Muriel Kenwood is exemplary for its unique text tracing the family’s heritage and ties with local place names.
   Whitney’s text concluded with the following:

  “The history of our community is at rest in this field. Out here we have pioneers, soldiers, ranchers, farmers, miners, store owners, doctors, teachers, family, and friends. Each one has in some way contributed to the Three Rivers that we enjoy today. I am sure that they are all grateful that we would honor their memories by being good stewards of their final resting place.”
   The current board of trustees consists of Gary Whitney, Gail Bennett, and Vern MacDonald. The cemetery office is housed at the office of The Kaweah Commonwealth.

Congress votes to allow

guns in national parks

   The U.S. Congress voted last week to allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. On Wednesday, May 20, the House approved the measure, 279-147, one day after the Senate acted. A total of 105 Democrats in the House joined 174 Republicans in supporting the gun measure, which essentially restores a Bush administration policy that allowed loaded guns in national parks for two months earlier this year.
   The measure, which was included in a credit card-reform bill, allows licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are allowed by state law.
   The bill is a stinging defeat for gun-control advocates, but Republicans said the bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, merely aligns national parks and wildlife refuges with regulations governing the national forests and property controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. The GOP called the current policy outdated and confusing to those who visit public lands, noting that merely traveling from state-managed parks to national parks meant some visitors were violating the law.
   A majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate opposed the gun measure, but enough Democrats voted for the credit card-reform bill that the final tally in both chambers was not close. Democratic leaders decided not to remove the gun provision after Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was able to insert it into a popular bill imposing new restrictions on credit card companies.
   Lawmakers said there was not enough time to send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee — where the measure could have been removed without a vote — and still get it to President Barack Obama by Memorial Day as he requested.
   The restriction on guns has been in effect for 26 years, enacted in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan when he signed into law a rule requiring everyone who entered a national park to disassemble and unload all guns and keep them out of reach.

3R man nearly impaled

by road debris

   To hear John McWilliams tell of his coming of age in his first four decades of life, he firmly believes he has nine lives. After Monday evening’s brush with death, he’s convinced he just used up another of them.
   That night was like so many others John was driving eastbound on Sierra Drive heading home to Cherokee Oaks. But suddenly, Wham! A pointed piece of metal flew up and penetrated his windshield, spewing broken glass in a thousand directions.

  “That metal rod shot up from under the tire of the SUV I was following like a bullet shot out of a gun,” John said. “It sounded like an explosion when it hit my windshield.”
   A hook on the end of the foot-long rod, which may have been used to prop up the hood of a small car, was all that kept the errant projectile from entering John’s 2003 Camry just inches to the left of the steering wheel. None the worse for his near-miss, John said he was picking bits of glass from his forehead for the rest of the evening.
   Solo rollover on North Fork— Apparently, an unsafe movement of the steering wheel was the cause of a solo vehicle rollover that took out a fence along North Fork Drive near the intersection of Kaweah River Drive. The accident occurred at 8:15 a.m. on Friday, May 29.
The 2003 Toyota Tacoma pickup was traveling up-canyon when the mishap occurred. The teenage male driver from Three Rivers complained of bumps and bruises but was otherwise unhurt.
   Update— Don Everson, a witness at the scene of the solo vehicle accident on May 26 on North Fork Drive involving a Kaweah man (“Local drivers deal with road hazards,” May 29, 2009), said that excessive speed in the S curve was a factor in the crash. Everson of Three Rivers, who said he narrowly missed being hit by the driver, said that the errant vehicle had already crossed the centerline when he was approaching from the opposite direction, and he estimates that the driver was traveling in excess of 70 mph.

One arrested during

bust at pot-growing sites

   Seeing law enforcement activity this time of year in the remote foothills around Three Rivers usually means that the pot-growing and eradication seasons are in full swing. Last week, a joint task force consisting of federal and state agencies and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department concentrated on grow sites in the South Fork vicinity.
   The net results included the eradication of two large pot-growing complexes, the removal of more than 7,000 plants, and one suspect arrested.
   The first of these recent raids took place Wednesday, May 27, when the task force, led by a National Park Service special agent, raided a marijuana grow site just inside the southwestern boundary of Sequoia National Park.
   Due to the steep and brushy terrain, and concern for the safety of the law officers, rangers employed short-haul techniques to insert personnel into the remote grow sites via helicopter. While the first team was staging on the ground near the grow site, they detected a suspect nearby.
   After being taken into custody, officers were able to link the suspect to the grow site and a firearm that was recovered. The unidentified suspect was flown out and charged with multiple felonies.
   More than 2,400 plants were removed from the complex. A Blackhawk helicopter on loan from the Border Patrol also discovered another grower’s complex located on Bureau of Land Management land nearby.
   A tactical unit of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department raided the BLM sites on Friday, May 29. This complex was larger than the one taken out within Sequoia National Park boundaries.
   Deputies removed a total 4,738 plants from this site. The haul from both sites was estimated to have been more than $4 million worth of product had the mature marijuana been able to reach the streets of the lucrative U.S. black market.

National Park Service just

made summer more affordable

Entrance fees will be waived

three weekends this summer

   Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced this week that the National Park Service will offer three fee-free weekends this summer to encourage Americans seeking affordable vacations to visit national parks. After all, there are 391 of them located across the country in 49 states (there is no national park in Delaware), 147 of which usually charge an entrance fee ranging from $3 to $25.
   Entrance fees, which at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks cost $20 per carload, will be waived once a month throughout summer during the weekends of June 20 and 21 (Father’s Day weekend), July 18 and 19, and August 15 and 16. In addition, many park partners, including hotels, restaurants, and other vendors will offer additional discounts and special promotions on those dates.
   For instance, Delaware North, the Sequoia concessionaire, will offer $5 vouchers for use at any Delaware North location – Wuksachi, Lodgepole, Stony Creek ($25 minimum purchase; some restrictions apply) during the fee-free weekends. The company plans additional special offers.

  “California and the Central Valley have been especially hit in these tough economic times,” said Craig Axtell, superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon. “Fee-free weekends encourage families to come to a national park to relax, learn something about this great nation, and have some fun.”
   Most Americans live less than a day’s drive from a national park. In Three Rivers, residents are minutes away and there is now no excuse not to head to Sequoia National Park on these weekends… unless you prefer the summer heat over the cool mountain air.
   This fee waiver does not include other monies collected in advance, such as those charged for camping, reservations, tours, and concessions. More information on the fees and discounts can be found online at www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm.

Historic schoolhouse

has gone to the dogs

by Brian Rothhammer

   Among the 2009 Woodlake High School graduates is a dog named Elliott. Well, sort of.
   Elliott, a golden retriever, is one of eight service dogs that graduated on Friday, May 15, from the Assistance Service Dog Educational Center located at the old St. John’s Schoolhouse in Woodlake. His trainer is WHS junior Danielle Knapp of Three Rivers.
   The old schoolhouse, built in 1914, was vacant for several years before Gerald and Donna Whittaker leased the property from Woodlake High School and founded the innovative program in 2003. It is now a sparkling clean facility inside and out where WHS students have a unique opportunity to positively affect their lives and the lives of others while earning high school credits.

  “It is the first school of its type offered to regular high school kids,” said Gerald (WHS Class of 1967), adding that he does know of one other for incarcerated youth and one for kids referred by Child Protective Services. “My idea here was to get students involved in something positive before they get in trouble.”
   Gerald said at-risk students make up part of the class but other students who connect with animals and are searching for a non-traditional elective also flourish in the program.
   The students/dog trainers learn lots of lessons in patience, task management, self esteem, even control of their own anger.

  “They have to learn to deal with their anger… if they cross their arms and scowl at the puppy, it’ll just lay down and quit… the dogs are like anger barometers,” explained Donna Whittaker (WHS Class of 1969).

  “Every student we’ve had has graduated high school, including some who had already quit and had been ordered back by a judge,” Gerald said with pride. “It’s the dogs who have the magic that brings it out of these kids. They don’t come to see Donna and me; they come to see their puppy!”
   Training these dogs is serious business. Typically, a student will teach over 90 separate commands to a service dog, and that vocabulary, along with the behaviors taught, enables the dog to continue learning after placement.
   Eight students are accepted each year for a two-year commitment. Each year, eight dogs graduate and the eight from the previous year are advanced to make room for eight new recruits. A commencement is held annually at the Woodlake Memorial Building and marks a bittersweet parting of the ways between dog and trainer.

  “It was sad and I cried,” said Danielle Knapp. “Being able to have a dog that you’re totally responsible for, they take up your personality. They become a mini you.”
   Not all was sadness though as Danielle went on to tell of the gratitude expressed by Elliott’s new best friend forever.
   Stephanie Snow now shares her life with Elliott. Stephanie has a debilitating ailment known as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), which affects one in two million people. In a speech she gave at the graduation ceremony, she related how having Elliott enables her to regain her independence.
   During the final phase of training, Stephanie, Elliott, and Danielle worked together to fine tune the vital relationship between service dog and client.
   Danielle wishes to continue as a teachers’ assistant for the course next year if she can fit it in with her senior schedule. Either way she plans to train a dog at her home for the program. She hopes to train a dog for one of the 300 veterans waiting on a list for one of the Woodlake dogs.

  “Three dogs were placed with veterans last year,” Donna Whittaker said, including one trained by Three Rivers resident Holly Snarr, who will graduate with the Class of 2009.
   The Whittakers hope to fulfill the needs of more veterans and are seeking to change antiquated ideas held by the Veterans Administration regarding service dogs and support for their training programs.
   For further information on the Woodlake program, contact the ASDEC at 564-7297 or www.servicedogcenter.org.

Fires in the forest

   Last weekend, the Falls Prescribed Fire was burning the understory in the oak and conifer forest between the highway and the Kings River in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. When complete, the fire will have treated approximately 150 acres.
  On Monday, June 1, Buck Rock Lookout reported seeing a fire in the remote Evans Grove in Giant Sequoia National Monument. When firefighters arrived on scene, they discovered a lightning-sparked fire burning in a hollow giant sequoia. About 60 feet of the top of the tree was broken off when struck by lightning.

3R cadet

graduates West Point

   Cadet James Andrew Potter, son of Gary and Katy Potter of Three Rivers, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday, May 23. Potter was homeschooled and completed his high school curriculum in 2005.
   While at West Point, his major field of study was Environmental Geography. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in the Field Artillery branch and will report to Fort Campbell, Ky., for his first assignment.
   West Point was founded in 1802 as America’s first college of engineering and is located 50 miles north of New York City. Today, “The Point” is a four-year co-educational, federally sponsored, undergraduate liberal arts college.
   Its mission in more than two centuries has remained constant — to educate, train, and inspire a corps of cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of duty, honor, and service as a career officer in the U.S. Army.

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
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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