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In the News - Friday, June 14, 2013




ONLY IN THE JUNE 14, 2013,


Three Rivers School grad photos and awards



BLM acquires 'South End'

property on Salt Creek

   When a government agency that manages some of the area’s prime public lands in Central California is offered 59.19 acres that could improve public access to a giant sequoia grove at Case Mountain, it’s difficult to imagine any other scenario than making some changes and upgrades. But with change comes uncertainty, and for the roomful of local users who huddled with Bureau of Land Management officials at Santa Teresita Youth Conference Center on Wednesday, May 29, there were lots of questions and a range of answers.
     In other words, Gabe Garcia, BLM Field Office manager, told the gathering, the acquisition is a done deal but the details remain to be worked out. First on the agenda is to develop management directives for the Caliente Resource Management Plan. The set of planning documents has been on one desk or another in the Bakersfield Regional Office of the BLM since 1997.
     When it is finalized, the plan will govern the use of 17 million acres of public lands in Central California. Of course only a small part will be devoted to BLM lands in Kaweah Country — parcels of prime lands that exist along scenic stretches of the Middle, North, and South forks of the Kaweah River and at Case Mountain with its iconic giant sequoia grove.
     Unlike most BLM acreage in California that experiences more intensive uses like off-road vehicles, mining operations, and even paintball tournaments, lands adjacent to Three Rivers are not readily accessible. Property boundaries, rules and regulations, and parking are not clearly spelled out or widely advertised.
     Many who attended the recent meeting expressed a strong desire that this low profile use should merely continue. BLM officials have considered the current policy and lack of on-site management, especially in light of budget constraints, but believe improved access should be part of the plan.
     The Case Mountain area became accessible to the public thanks to Ollie Craig’s donation of more than 1,000 acres of mostly mountainous cattle-grazing terrain in 1993. This land, formerly a part of the Craig Ranch, opened for the first time a prime recreation area for sanctioned use.
     The entrance to this gem with its network of riding, hiking and biking trails has been a worst case scenario for some Three Rivers residents. Even though the South End property has been privately owned these last two decades, it is zigzagged with a network of social trails leading to the .03 mile portion of Salt Creek Road that is contained in the 59.19 acres being acquired.
     In effect, users who routinely access these social trails are trespassing; acquisition of the South End would make this use legal. The area is ideal for an increasing number of users and lots of locals who ride horseback or a mountain bike there or walk a dog, run, and hike — the majority of whom access the trails and Salt Creek Road via the Skyline Drive trailhead.
     Some venture as far as Cinnamon Gap (4,600 feet), seven miles up the mountainous terrain or continue on to the majestic Case Mountain Grove (6,500 feet), more than ten miles from the trailhead. The recreational possibilities are endless and herein lies the enigma.
     As word spreads of wildflowers, waterfalls, and unique single-track mountain biking, there is even more pressure on the limited parking.
     The rights of private property owners and Skyline Drive neighbors are not always respected and safety issues are also a concern. These are among the challenges facing BLM managers who regard the Case Mountain area, owing to its pristine resources, as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
     Enter the Save the Redwoods League and the Sequoia Riverlands Trust who collectively have purchased the 59.19-acre South End property from Craig heirs to donate the property to the BLM. The donation gives the BLM the option of changing the area’s access to Salt Creek Drive, which could take some of the pressure off Skyline Drive.
     Of course, with improved access there will be more use, and that leads to other challenges and, according to Peter DeWitt, BLM recreation planner, also opportunities. Opportunities like partnerships with user groups that could help solve problems posed by the lack of on-site BLM park rangers.
     The audience that attended the May 29 workshop was asked to identify these challenges, opportunities, and solutions. In addition to the limited parking, among issues addressed were indiscriminate shooting, lack of enforcement, signage, and how a stepped-up management policy could be funded.
      Father John Griesbach, director of St. Anthony Retreat Center, commented on the Retreat’s role as a neighbor to the Case Mountain area and the potential of its use as a living science laboratory for Santa Teresita youth campers and retreat visitors. By virtue of its location and mission, the retreat would be a willing community partner, Father John said.
     Earl McKee, longtime lessee of the property, who has pastured cattle and horses there, said in all his years using the property there has never been any serious trouble and everyone has managed to get along.
    “I think the BLM has done a good job over the years,” Earl concluded. “I’m all for stopping the shooting but there are some things out there that are tough to enforce. We could use some help on the parking but things are pretty good the way they are.”
     Another local meeting with BLM officials will be scheduled for late-summer or early fall.
     Have a suggestion or concern about Salt Creek, Case Mountain or any BLM issue or property? Contact Peter De Witt at (661) 391-6121 or email pdewitt@blm.gov.

Town meeting underscores fire danger

      At the last Town Hall meeting before the annual two-month summer hiatus, the message was loud and clear: this is going to be a long, hot summer and fire danger will be extreme.
      At the meeting, held Monday, June 10, Chief Derek Staberg, Cal Fire, began the discussion by announcing that local property inspections are underway. It’s mandatory under state law that trees are trimmed and weeds and debris cleared from at least 100 feet around every structure.
    “We’re fortunate here that we don’t have the high winds of other areas,” Staberg said. “Fires burning elsewhere are already using strike teams from the Tulare County stations.”
      That means personnel that is rotated in from other areas around the state might not be familiar with Tulare County or Three Rivers so make certain firefighters know where your property is located, Staberg said.
      The Cal Fire spokesperson added that “if neighboring properties are within 100 feet of your structure, every attempt should be made at clearance.”
      Chief Joe Garcia, Tulare County Fire Department, said the early season has already had four significant fires within the county.
    “What we noticed this year so far is that wind gusts are blowing burning grasses into structures,” Chief Garcia said.
      When temperatures reach triple digits, Chief Garcia also reminded everyone to drink more water and stay hydrated. There have been an unusual number of heat stroke cases already this season.
     Krystina Webster, acting fire education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, added that fire restrictions are also in effect for the national parks.
    “We’ve completed the annual fuel reduction burns around Ash Mountain and Hospital Rock,” Webster said. “But with the extreme summer conditions, prescribed burns scheduled for this summer have been suspended.”
      She also mentioned that the parks’ Arrowhead Hotshots have been deployed on the White Fire in the Los Padres National Forest.
     Dana Dierkes, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks public information officer, announced that Dorst Campground is no longer accepting reservations for the summer season. It is probable that Dorst will run out of water before long due to the lack of precipitation during the previous winter and spring.
     The current phase of the Generals Highway reconstruction will be completed by the end of the month, Dierkes said. The utilities project north of the Giant Forest Museum will continue throughout the summer and necessitate delays of up to 15 minutes.
     The next regular town meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9. Anyone with suggestions on how to proceed with future meetings or items for the agenda should contact Lee Goldstein of the Three Rivers Village Foundation at 561-3204.

Bakersfield man released

from hospital after crash ordeal

    To say Fred Porter, 63, of Bakersfield is lucky to be alive is an understatement. Not only did he survive a horrific 300-foot plunge down a steep embankment below the Generals Highway near Deer Ridge in his truck but he was found alive four days later outside the vehicle another 300 feet below the crash site (“Missing Bakersfield man found in Sequoia,” June 7, 2013).
     Details as to what caused the crash or how Porter survived those four days have not been revealed. But a co-worker at Budget Bolt on Rosedale Highway in Bakersfield where Porter is co-owner, said the victim’s condition is much improved.
     In a follow-up article published in the Bakersfield Californian last week, the victim’s wife Linda stated that when Fred regained consciousness after the crash he had no idea that his vehicle was precariously hung up in a tree. Suffering from head trauma and in a daze, Fred tried to exit the mangled truck.
     When Porter stepped out of the cab of the truck, he plunged another 300 feet, this time without a seatbelt or airbag to break his fall. When he came to rest, he had again crashed through heavy brush and landed in another tree.
    “It’s a miracle,” Linda told the Californian. “For him to fall through two sets of trees and be caught by the third set of trees, that’s a miracle.”

    For the helicopter crew to catch a glimpse of the totaled truck because they were flying so close to the embankment that the wind from the chopper’s blades parted the dense vegetation was a stroke of providence. To find the victim alive and still hung up in a tree 300 yards   below that was indeed miraculous.
     Porter was released from Kaweah Delta Hospital last week. Details of his current condition were not made public.


TRUS softball team challenges teachers and staff

    A good time was had by all on Monday, May 13, when the Three Rivers School softball team won a hard-fought victory over a team of teachers and staff in a fun, yet competitive game. But this wasn’t the only game the girls won this season. They were undefeated league champions with an 8-0 record (8-3 in overall play).

A critically dry summer means fire safety is imperative

    Local, federal, and state agencies are asking everyone to be cautious with outdoor fires and anything that can cause a fire. Visitors and residents are asked to be vigilant in their efforts to prevent wildfires because, after all, it’s not a question of “if” a fire will occur, it’s when.

     As the summer recreation season starts, visitors are traveling to the Sierra to enjoy camping, fishing, backpacking, and other activities that make the region so spectacular. Since camping most often involves campfires, campers are reminded to follow all fire restrictions in effect on public lands.
     According to the regulations, campfires are only permitted in developed sites in campgrounds or picnic areas. Campfires are never allowed at the Bureau of Land Management recreation areas surrounding Three Rivers.
     Campfire safety guidelines include:
     Have a shovel and water to put the campfire out. Drown with water and stir with dirt, making sure all burned materials are extinguished. Feel with your hand to make sure it’s out cold. Charcoal should also be soaked with water after use.
      Clear all flammable material away from the fire for a minimum of five feet in all directions.
      Have a responsible person in attendance at all times.
      Never leave your campfire unattended.
      Never have a campfire on windy days.
     Consider not having a campfire. A propane stove is a great alternative because it is easy to clean up, leaves no trace on the land, and has a low risk of starting a fire in high fire danger areas.
     Smokers on public lands may smoke only in a vehicle, designated building, or a developed campsite or picnic area.

      The most effective way homeowners can increase the fire-survivability of their homes is to ensure that they have created “defensible space.” This is the result of clearing flammable vegetation away from the home and all outbuildings. Clearing dead grass and brush 100 feet from homes is a critical step in preparing for fire season. When creating defensible space, remove all dead vegetation, then reduce the amount of green vegetation by limbing and thinning. Finally, replace flammable vegetation with more fire-resistant types of plants.
     However, the unsafe use of power equipment can actually start new fires. Fire agencies remind homeowners of the importance of cutting down overgrown vegetation, but stress doing yard maintenance before 10 a.m. during fire season. The spark from the metal blade of a lawn mower against a rock can easily ignite a wildfire. All motorized equipment must have a spark arrester.

      Cigarettes should never be discarded out of a vehicle window.
     All Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) must have a California green or red sticker or be street legal. All vehicles must be equipped with an approved spark arrester.
     Parking in tall grass or shrubs can start fires when the hot catalytic converter comes in contact with the dry plant materials. Dry, windy conditions can turn smoldering grass into a wall of flames. Keep vehicles on existing roads.  Don’t park where vegetation is touching the underside of the vehicle.
     It’s fireworks season, and everyone should be aware of the zero-tolerance policy in Three Rivers and surrounding public lands. Fireworks are illegal here due to the fire danger.

Altar Society offers comfort to cancer patients

    Several women of the St. Clair Altar Society stated after their February meeting to stuff small “comfort” pillows for breast cancer patients at Kaweah Delta Hospital. The pillows, made of flannel in a cheerful floral print, were stuffed with fiberfill to make them easily washable. A total of 26 were delivered to the Cancer Center in Visalia in late February.
     A thank-you note was received by the group from Gordon Ah Tye, Director of Imaging and Radiology Oncology Services at the hospital, stating that the pillows will assist cancer patients by adding to the physical and emotional comfort to those going through that experience.
   Article contributed by Jane Dempsey.

TRUS guest student returns home to Germany

    He learned a new sport when he played on the Three Rivers School baseball team. He learned a new language through total immersion and even played an English-speaking part in the year-end eighth-grade play. And he traveled to San Francisco with the class.
      Phelan Klemer was a guest student from Germany who attended eighth-grade at TRUS during the spring semester. He graduated with the class then flew home to Germany shortly thereafter.
      His mom, Andrea, who discovered the area when she lived in Three Rivers while a German exchange student at Woodlake High, emailed this report:
    “Phelan is doing good! Has had some smaller problems with the time change. Took a two-hour nap Monday afternoon and went to bed at 6 p.m. yesterday. But that’s normal.
     He was able to attend school yesterday morning already (Tue). Had a warm welcome in class.
     Took his American school notes and all the activity papers and certificates plus class picture and yearbook with him to school for his teachers, classmates, and his principal to look at. Also has to prepare a presentation on his time in the States for his English class.
     Will start to attend the junior firefighters this Friday and maybe his soccer club training this week again. He is still mixing in some English words into the German language or is mixing up the word order or translating phrases from English to German that we do not use in German, which sometimes sounds funny!
     Has talked about many of the things he has experienced. They were fantastic.
     The end of June we might get a French guest student living with us for 10 days. The special thing about him is that he is the oldest son of my [Andrea Klemer] friend from France who also was a foreign exchange student at Woodlake High School living in Three Rivers in 1987-88. So now that friend wants to send her son to us to be a guest student to Germany and attend school with Phelan.”


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