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In the News - Friday, June 22, 2012

This week's front page



Cider Mill to rebuild

  In the aftermath of one of most disastrous fires in the annals of Three Rivers, Efrain Ponce, owner of the Cider Mill Restaurant, said he plans to rebuild and the landmark property will return better than ever. Of course, a chain of events must occur before the clean-up and construction, starting with the insurance settlement.
   Efrain, a longtime real estate developer and general contractor from Woodlake, said he plans to do the project himself but is waiting to hear the outcome of the insurance investigation. So far, the insurance adjusters agree the fire caused a total loss but have not released an estimate of the damage.
  “The family was together earlier this week and I asked them if we should reopen the restaurant and everyone, with the exception of Elizabeth, of course, agreed how much they all enjoyed working in the family business,” said Efrain. “I made the commitment right there to go forward with the rebuilding project.”
   Elizabeth Gonzalez of Ivanhoe, one of four sisters including Efrain’s wife who was employed at the venerable eatery, is the mother of Geordie, the 13-year-old boy who perished in the blaze. She said it would be too traumatic to return to that tragic place.
  “I could go back to remodeling houses and buying and selling properties,” Efrain said. “But in the last five years since we purchased the Cider Mill I realized that there is no better way to provide for my family than a family business where we can all work and spend time together.”
   In addition to learning a great deal about the restaurant business, Efrain said it was gratifying when visitors from all over the world would come in late at night looking for a place to eat.  They were so appreciative of the friendly atmosphere and a good meal that it made the long hours and hard work that much more worthwhile.
   Efrain admitted it will be a challenge, even in a best-case scenario, trying to reopen in time for next year’s busy tourist season. He has already called the Tulare County Planning Department and on Wednesday said he hopes to meet with a county planner in the next couple of days.
   The fire occurred Friday, June 8. For the next week, Efrain said, the entire family was numb from the tragic experience. There are still a number of family members staying at the Ponce home in Woodlake.
   Efrain’s cousin Victor, who recently opened a new restaurant, La Espuelas, in the former Lara’s Meat Market on Valencia Boulevard in Woodlake, has been bringing hot food daily to feed the family and guests.
   La Espuelas, Efrain said, was the vendor that furnished the meat for the Cider Mill’s popular barbecue. Efrain said he helped his cousin open that restaurant, too, but the loss of the Cider Mill’s meat business will hurt.
  “That’s a difficult part of the loss, too, to realize all the business that is gone and the 12 to 15 jobs for family members who are now unemployed,” Efrain said. “Everybody knows it’s tough right now to find a job.”
   Efrain said he has been back to the Cider Mill several times since the fire and is overwhelmed by all the cards, stuffed animals, and the outpouring of support from the community of Three Rivers.
  “Please convey my gratitude and sincere thanks from our family to the good people of Three Rivers,” Ponce said. “All the support has really been a comfort and has helped us get through these difficult days.”
   Those wishing to assist the Gonzalez family monetarily may contribute to the Geordie Gonzalez Memorial Fund at the Three Rivers branch of the Bank of the Sierra.

Kaweah Delta helipad project
seeks Three Rivers donors

  Most anybody would say yes to reducing their commute time. Three Rivers currently has the opportunity to assist in reducing its commute time when it matters most — in an extreme medical emergency.
   The Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia is moving forward with plans to build a helipad that would provide fast and convenient transport of seriously ill or traumatically injured persons in or out of the hospital.
   Minutes matter— Since mere minutes count in any life-threatening situation, a helipad could potentially save many lives in Three Rivers. Whereas an ambulance presently takes 20 minutes to arrive in the main part of town, a helicopter can reach Three Rivers in under 10 minutes.
   A helicopter can fly the 30-plus miles from Three Rivers to Kaweah Delta in 9 minutes. It takes an ambulance 35 to 40 minutes to get to the hospital.
   Even if a helicopter is used to transport a patient from Three Rivers or Sequoia National Park, it must presently bypass the hospital to land at the Visalia Municipal Airport. The patient is then transferred to a ground ambulance and driven the six miles back to Kaweah Delta.
  “Time affects outcomes,” said Dena Cochran, vice president of development for the Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation.
   Hospitals and helipads— It’s the KDH Foundation that is spearheading a fundraising campaign to construct an onsite helipad at Kaweah Delta Hospital. The Foundation, created in 1979, has a mission to raise funds in support of Kaweah Delta to achieve excellence in patient care.
   With a helipad — which will be a raised structure above the hospital’s parking lot and adjacent to the emergency room — medical care in Tulare and Kings counties will reach a new level of excellence.
   Three Rivers and Sequoia will benefit considerably as a result of this project. Because of the topography of these foothills and mountains, there are risky pursuits undertaken as well as the everyday hazards of an outdoor lifestyle, combined with the distance from a professional medical facility. Helicopter transport for traumatic injuries makes sense, especially in Kaweah Country.
   Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for anyone under the age of 45. It is the fifth leading cause of death for all ages.
   Kaweah Delta Hospital is the only Level III trauma center in Tulare and Kings counties. A Level III trauma center, on a scale of one to five, does not have the full availability of specialists, but does have resources for emergency resuscitation, surgery, and intensive care of most trauma patients. As a Level III, Kaweah Delta has transfer agreements with Level I and Level II trauma centers that provide backup resources for the care of exceptionally severe injuries.
   Kaweah Delta does not have a burn unit or provide pediatric surgery. But with an onsite helipad, a patient can be transported to Children’s Hospital of Central California in 17 minutes, to UC San Francisco’s medical center in about an hour, and to Stanford Medical Center in 75 minutes.
   Dollars and sense— The cost to construct the helipad is $2.2 million. The Foundation is well on its way to achieving its goal.
   With donations and pledges from public, private, and nonprofit donors, as well as a nearly half-million-dollar federal grant, the Foundation is just over $300,000 away from their goal. This is where the community of Three Rivers can assist.
   Local property owners don’t pay taxes to the Kaweah Delta hospital district. Three Rivers continues to be a part of the Memorial Hospital of Exeter district. That hospital closed over 10 years ago.
   For many years, Kaweah Delta has been the hospital that Three Rivers would consider going to if the need arose. In addition, the benefits of a helipad to local residents and visitors would be immense as transport time to the Visalia hospital would be more than cut in half.
   Three Rivers to the rescue— In the final phase of its fundraising campaign, the KDH Foundation is turning to Three Rivers and Sequoia donors to contribute to the helipad project. Foundation staff is available to make community presentations to further explain the need for a helipad.
   A “Three Rivers Community Cabinet” was formed in April, utilizing Three Rivers residents who will assist in the fundraising effort.
   Service organizations are being requested to consider the helipad a worthy cause to which to donate. Employee associations are asked to discuss with their members the possibility of pledging toward the project. And private donors, the bread-and-butter of any fundraising project, are being asked to generously support the campaign.
  “There have to be a few big gifts in every campaign, and that usually comes from private donors,” said Dena Cochran of the Foundation.
   Construction of the helipad has been approved by the FAA, the Visalia Planning Commission, and Visalia City Council. Groundbreaking for the helipad is scheduled for this summer with an estimated date of completion set for August 2013.
   For more information or to discuss the particulars of making a contribution, contact the Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation at foundation@kdhcd.org. To make an online donation, go to www.kaweahdelta.org/giving/donations.asp.

Recreation up as lake level drops

  Venture out to Lake Kaweah on these warm, sunny summer afternoons and you will see recreationists of every imaginable description. There are jet skiers, fisherman floating in tubes, kids with water wings, open water swimmers, wakeboarders, water skiers, sailing catamarans with pedals for control, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), kayakers, speedboats, houseboats, bass boats, canoes, and picnickers staked out in all the prime locations.
  “The hot spots are secluded areas along the north shore in the vicinity of Greasy Cove,” said Matt Murphy, Lake Kaweah’s chief ranger. “On the busy days we have competing clientele in the coves grouped by generations.”
   Ranger Matt said the younger crowd blasts the rap and the hip-hop tunes while they create some wet and wild entertainment. But the loud music proves to be annoying to the older houseboat crowd who prefer peace and quiet to swim, sunbathe, and fish.
  “There have been no major incidents so far but we always have to be nearby to keep an eye on what’s going on and monitor the boat traffic,” Matt said.
   Two weekends ago, a flat-bottom V8 jet boat caught fire near Lemon Hill and was fully consumed to the waterline, Matt said. That was an obvious lesson to all who looked on that good boat maintenance is a critical factor in safe boating.
   Matt also reported that the elevation level of the lake is currently dropping about a foot a day.
  “The upside to the water level dropping is that by this weekend we should have a good part of the campground back in service,” Matt said.
   To recover use of the campground facilities the lake has to drop from the current fill level of 185,000 acre feet when it’s at capacity to 145,000 acre feet, which is the old fill level prior to the 2004 enlargement. That’s still plenty of water for everyone to fish, boat, swim and play around in, Matt said.
   But don’t expect all that water to last too much longer past the week of July 4 — on a Wednesday this year and sandwiched by two busy weekends. By mid-July, farmers in the Valley depend on greater releases from Lake Kaweah during those dry, hot, long days of summer.
  “Typically, by mid-July we are seeing the lake level dropping by more than two feet per 24-hour period,” Matt says. “With a dry year like this one its possible that those levels will fall even faster.”
   River flows in the vicinity of Slicky on the Middle Fork behind the Chevron station where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gathers its remote readings are already indicating water typical for August. This year in August, the Middle Fork will approach unprecedented low numbers and contain barely trickle of last season’s flow.

Museum quality
(photo caption)

  This historic yet modified roadside sign at the entrance to the Slick Rock Recreation Area at Lake Kaweah is scheduled to be removed and donated to the Three Rivers Historical Museum to make way for a new “Welcome to Three Rivers” sign at the Horse Creek Bridge. The metalwork on the old sign is said to have been created by the late Carroll Barnes, a renowned Three Rivers sculptor. The new sign is under the auspices of the Three Rivers Village Foundation.

Whitaker Prescribed Fire underway

  Fire crews planned to begin ignitions on the Whitaker Prescribed Fire, weather and air quality conditions permitting, on Thursday, June 21. This will be an interagency project being completed by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the Center for Forestry, a division of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources.
   The 504-acre unit — 429 acres on park land; 75 acres on UC Berkeley land — is in the Redwood Mountain Grove. The project is located south of the Whitaker Forest Road, east of U.S. Forest Service Road 14S34, and takes advantage of last year’s Redwood Mountain Prescribed Fire for control lines to the west.
   Ignitions will be completed over a four-day period by National Park Service crews. Following ignitions, the fire will burn within the boundaries.
  “Because the fuels are heavier there, I should expect that the smolder-down will take longer than some other areas,” said Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “Based on what we’ve seen in the Redwood Canyon in previous years, it could smolder for several weeks, with the amount of smoke diminishing over time as the fuels consume.”
   Redwood Mountain is home to one of the largest giant sequoia groves in the world and is also the birthplace of prescribed fire in the western U.S. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks began using prescribed fires in 1968.
   During this current project, the western loop of the Sugar Bowl Trail will be closed. All other trails, including the Big Springs Trail and the Hart Tree Trail, will remain open. Hikers should expect smoke in the area, however, while ignitions are completed and the fire continues to burn out.
   Sequoia park and forest visitors should expect smoke impacts in the Redwood Canyon and Kings Canyon Overlook areas during the day. Three Rivers residents will experience smoke in the Kaweah River’s North Fork drainage at night, as will those in the communities of Pinehurst, Dunlap, and Eshom Valley.

Avoiding heat exhaustion in pets

By Kelly Anez, DVM

  With the temperatures set to increase as we go into the next couple of months here in the Central Valley, it is important to remember that dogs are prone to heat exhaustion, also known as “hyperthermia.” For the most part, dogs eliminate heat from their bodies by panting. They do have sweat glands by their footpads that do help with heat dissipation, but only minimally, and certainly not to the degree a human is able to cool by using sweat.
   Usually panting can eliminate enough heat for the pet unless the ambient temperature outside is high (which is normal for this area in the summer) or if the pet exercises to the point where their body temperature starts to rise beyond the point where they cannot cool themselves by panting. When this happens, heat exhaustion can be fatal, and every year we see several cases in our local emergency clinic where the pet is beyond saving.
   Excessive panting and signs of discomfort can indicate overheating. Any animal outdoors without shade, left in a hot car, or exercised on a hot day is susceptible.
   Dogs with thick fur, short noses, or those suffering from medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity are predisposed to heatstroke. In addition, dogs that enjoy constant exercise and playtime — such as working dogs (Labradors, springer spaniels, etc.) — should be closely monitored for signs of overheating, especially on hot days.
   If you suspect your pet may be suffering from hyperthermia, remove them from the hot environment immediately. Do not administer any medication as this can lead to other problems.
   Using a thermometer, take the rectal temperature of the dog. If it exceeds 103 degrees F., begin to cool the pet off with slightly cool (not cold) water. You can also squirt isopropyl alcohol on their paws and pads to further aid cooling.
   Once the pet is wet, it is imperative that you seek veterinary attention immediately. Treatment will consist mostly of replacing lost fluids and minerals.
   Do not assume that if the pet looks stable they are not in danger. Hyperthermia may extend to secondary conditions that your vet will be able to identify.
   Intravenous fluid therapy and monitoring for secondary complications such as kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, abnormal clotting, changes in blood pressure, and electrolytes abnormalities are typically recommended in cases of heatstroke.
   Dr. Kelly Anez is a veterinarian and owner of Pacific Crest Equine in Exeter.


Rum punch is the best medicine

By Allison Sherwood Millner

   The fifth stop on our Caribbean cruise was the island of St. Lucia. Like Barbados, we didn’t really have a plan for the island; truth be told we didn’t know much about it.
   After some brief research and a little planning, we decided to walk into town with our friends Russell and Kay and take a taxi around the island to the various points of interest. Sounds reasonable, right?
   If there’s one thing you learn from traveling (without much planning) is that you have to be flexible. No sooner had we gotten off the boat and passed the various tour operations, we realized that our plan of attack would need to change.
   St. Lucia is densely forested with palm trees and jungle that cascade right down to the water’s edge. The island is very mountainous with a small population that is spread out among various villages scattered around the island.
   These villages are connected to each other by many narrow, winding, poorly maintained roads that even the locals don’t advise traveling. So how does the adventurous tourist make her way from the cruise terminal to visit all the must-see places? By water, of course.
   So the adventure begins with a short haggling session with a local guide who will take us on a six-hour tour. In the end, we pay $65 each for the day, to include round-trip transportation to the Pitons, admission into the volcano, the mineral baths (that will make us look 10 years younger), and a stop for lunch in the famous Marigot Bay.
   Off we go, onto the choppy sea in a boat that pales in comparison to the luxury of Barbados, but has its own charm when crowded with 20 barefoot tourists from around the world. As we bounce our way down the spectacular coast, every cliff we pass uncovers another cove with white sand beaches and rocky bluffs.
   Everyone sits in silence, taking in the beauty of the island from the sea. We are all on the same journey but the uneasiness of the open ocean has kept most of us to hushed whispers.
Dane and I have been chatting minimally with our friends during the ride; Kay is admittedly afraid of the water and has been gripping the side of the boat and her hat the entire time, and Russell is glued to his video camera.
   Relief hits as we pull into our final cove, step onto land, and get into awaiting vans to take us to the volcano. This is where my past experience should have kicked in. I’m not sure why I had such high expectations; you would think I’d have learned by now.
   And I did learn, actually, that while volcanoes can be spitting fire and molten lava, they can also be very stinky pits with trickling water that emit intense sulfur steam. On that same token, aren’t mineral baths large, crystalline pools that you luxuriate in? Perhaps, but they can also be small puddles made of rock and cinder block that warm, muddy volcano runoff slowly makes its way through.
   The two pieces of utter beauty that I wish we had explored more were the Pitons: Gros and Petit. These are two immense volcanic cones rising from the ocean to over 2,000 feet above sea level and are breathtaking. Their sheer height and mass are unbelievable and seem to be out of place next to the island.
   It is these two beauties that slowly faded into the distance as we braced ourselves for the voyage to Marigot Bay. We were a group of hot, tired, hungry, and weary travelers not particularly looking forward to another 45 minutes of trampolining along the ocean’s surface until… rum punch!
   We’ve all had those batches of cloyingly sweet alcoholic stews that are hard to impress. But our concoction, I venture to say, held some sort of magic.
   Our guide said it was his mama’s secret recipe, and indeed appeared to be homemade as it was stored in some sort of recycled plastic jug; whole spices of clove and cinnamon bobbed in the pink liquid.
   None of us felt particularly excited for the elixir when it was offered, but we each accepted small amounts in our plastic cups, out of courtesy.
   Kay immediately turned up her nose after the first sip at the strength of it while Dane and I tested its flavor, trying to get sips in between waves. Russell struggled between the video camera and his cup, not managing either very well and finally giving up on the cinematography.
   As we traveled along the water a funny thing happened. An excited chatter began to rise among people, the noise level dramatically increasing.
   Everyone on the boat was talking and laughing and sharing stories and introducing themselves to the people next to them. We met Martin and Sabine, a couple from Austria who had been saving for years to come to St. Lucia on a cruise (a great luxury for them).
   Sabine had learned about St. Lucia from the television series The Love Boat and she had decided that it was the ultimate dream destination.
   We joked with Julie and Ed about our dining room table on the cruise. They had elected to eat at the “fancy” restaurant that night and we all teased them. Our dining table had become a Survivor island and they were being booted from the table, replaced with our new friends Martin and Sabine.
   And Kay! She was several cups into the punch and suddenly loving her ocean journey. Her hands lost their place clinging to her hat and the railing as she was now more concerned with safeguarding her rum punch. It was “perfectly spiced” she proclaimed and offered up her glass at the suggestion of a refill.
   With this jubilation we reached the famed Marigot Bay, overlooked by mansions owned by Oprah and Mick Jagger. I recall vaguely the lunch we had sitting over the water, the swim I took in the calm turquoise bay. I have an image of palm trees swaying as we debated when and if we would let Julie and Ed back to our dining room table.
   I realized that day that most often it’s about the journey rather than the destination. Who you share your experience with is just as important as where you go.
   Traveling is about the connections you make with strangers you never expected to meet. And in St. Lucia, you may travel to see the volcano but it’s the rum punch you’ll remember.
   When not tasting, experiencing, and sampling the food, drink, and culture of the Caribbean,  Allison Millner and her husband, Dane, own and operate Sierra Subs and Salads in Three Rivers.

This week at CSS: Practice makes concerts

News of the Center Stage Strings music camps

By Bill Haxton

  Walk into Harrison Hall or down the stairs into the basement of the Community Presbyterian Church this week and listen. What you’ll hear is a dozen instruments — violins, cellos, violas and pianos — all playing different music, some doing scales, some rehearsing for a performance, some repeating a particularly difficult technique over and over until it’s right.
   Taken as a whole, you’d be right if you concluded it was noise, not music, like an orchestra tuning up before the conductor comes out of the wings. That said, if you exert a little effort to focus on one sound and shut the others out, there is no doubt that what you are hearing is music, really good music. This is the sound of young performers preparing to take center stage.
   Throughout this weekend and next week, Center Stage Strings has an exciting lineup of festival concerts featuring both faculty and student musicians. For those of us who have attended concerts in the two previous camps, the student concerts provide a fine opportunity to witness how much some of the younger students have grown, both in stature and in musicianship.
   First on the docket is Stringfest! on Saturday, June 23, at 8 pm. The concert opens with Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2. Bartok wrote the piece in seclusion in Hungary while World War I swept across Europe. For a change of pace, Danielle Belen and Diego Miralles follow with Johann Halvorsen’s reflectively optimistic Passacaglia adapted from Händel’s Suite No.7 in G minor. Juilliard violist Michael Casimir performs the lyrical Franck Sonata, one of the standards in the violin repertoire; Michael renders it beautifully on the deeper sultry voice of the viola. Stringfest! closes with Brahms’ sweeping String Quintet in G Major, Opus 111, one of his last pieces and something of a farewell to a lifetime of composing.
   On Sunday, June 24, at 4 p.m. (expected to be cool and comfortable with a high of 86), Center Stage Strings presents the first of two all-student concerts. One of the tangible benefits that comes with having a music camp in your hometown is the opportunity to watch terrific young musicians develop over time.
   Already, one of the camp’s former students has gone on to real heights, winning the coveted Davidson Prize last year. Another who attended the first camp at age eight is now 10 and you simply won’t believe the difference those two years make. And this year’s crop of first-time students is stronger than ever.
   Something new is the free Brown Bag Lunch performances at the Presbyterian Church’s Harrison Hall on Wednesday, June 27, and Friday, June 29, both at 12:15 p.m. Bring a sandwich or salad and enjoy a free concert by gifted students.
   On Saturday, June 30, at 8 p.m., the entire Center Stage Strings faculty comes together for an evening full of masterworks from composers around the world — Mozart’s String Quintet in E Flat Major, Elgar’s majestic Piano Quintet in A Minor and the contemporary composition “Last Round” for string ensemble by Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov.
   Music camp ends with the second all-student concert on Sunday, July 1, at 4 p.m. This concert shouldn’t be missed. All the hard work of the past two weeks culminates in a great celebration.
   All student concerts and Brown Bag Lunch events are free. For the faculty concerts, tickets are $12, available at Chump’s DVDs or at the door.

Share the Road: A tourist season priority

  When the Board of Supervisors adopted the resolution that made Tulare County a “Share the Road” county earlier this year lots of folks wondered whether placing signs along roadways would have an effect on the alarming statewide numbers of pedestrian and biker deaths. Signs were installed at a number of locations around the county at crosswalks and along bike lanes.
   The awareness campaign is evident along Caldwell Avenue in Visalia, and when an approaching motorist sees the distinctive Share the Road signs, that’s enough to prompt a wary look for a biker or pedestrian. Nowhere are these signs more needed than in Three Rivers during the busy summer season.
   Have you ever driven on the highway by the Comfort Inn and the Village shopping center after dark? There are droves of shadowy figures in the narrow shoulder of the highway, some tempting fate as they cross the highway for a late-night snack.
   Add to the nighttime traffic the increasing number of bike travelers who need part of the roadway as they pedal through the narrow stretches of the Kaweah canyon to the Ash Mountain entrance station at Sequoia National Park.
   It’s a no-brainer the signs and more public awareness are sorely needed in Three Rivers and could help save lives. Supervisor Allen Ishida, who earlier this week was reminded about the problem, has pledged that these signs will be made available to Three Rivers as soon as next week.
  “But because Sierra Drive is a state highway we can’t just go around placing signs in the road’s right-of-way without a permit,” said Supervisor Ishida. “Cal Trans has been supportive elsewhere, and the program is proven to work wherever folks run, walk, and cycle.”
   According to California Highway Patrol statistics from 2009, there were 13,083 pedestrians injured in roadway accidents and 12,043 cyclists injured statewide. In Tulare County for the same year, there were 119 pedestrians injured and 12 fatalities; 93 cyclists were injured with one fatality.
  “It’s an important proactive step in teaching the public how to share the road properly and prevent future tragedies,” Supervisor Ishida said.

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