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In the News - Friday, July 24, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


A Three Rivers kid dives into the 75-degree water

of the upper pool at Slicky. Sure, it looks refreshing,

but the Kaweah River is dangerous no matter what

time of year and is not a place for inexperienced swimmers.

River claims

two teens in two days

   There have been the recurring close calls this season but no tragedy. That is, until two teenage girls drowned in separate incidents in the same pool on consecutive days of last weekend.
   The first victim was Andrea Vedoya, 13, of Tulare who was at Hospital Rock on a family outing. The cool, seemingly safe pools below the popular picnic area are just too much to resist for dozens who have waded into the ankle- deep water daily during the current run of triple-digit temperatures.
   But just a few feet from shore a chute with rushing white water empties into a deeper pool below. Most waders who enter the deadly pool feel the pull of the rushing current on its fringe and retreat to the safety of a rock near or on the shore.
   On the afternoon of July 18, Andrea felt the strong current, then tumbled quickly down the chute and became trapped below a rock in a larger pool some six to eight feet deep.

  “It’s unfortunate, but when a drowning does occur, it’s an inexperienced swimmer who gets into trouble,” said Three Rivers resident deputy Jim Fansett, who assisted park rangers in the recovery efforts. “Locals would take one look at this stretch of river and say ‘no way.’”
   The frantic call for help came into park dispatch at 3:30 p.m. One witness at the scene said a relative of the girl tried to get a rope on her to pull her out from where she was trapped.
Rangers managed to extricate the victim from the channel at 4:30 p.m.

  “Once the high water of spring has passed, the river can appear deceptively calm,” said David Fireman, Ash Mountain ranger. “There are still strong currents and, in a rocky riverbed, the river remains dangerous all year.”
   The tragedy of Saturday was repeated Sunday, only this time darkness hindered the search for Ashley Arrellano. Arrellano, 14, of Exeter was swept down the same stretch of river. The call for help came in just after 8 p.m.
   By the time rescuers could respond it was getting too dark to see anything in the rocky section of the channel where, again, it appeared the victim was trapped under the same large rock. The search was abandoned about 10 p.m. and resumed at first light Monday morning.
   This time, divers entered the water but found no victim or any clues in the vicinity of the rock. Deputy Fansett, one of the dive team members, spotted the victim’s body at the bottom of another pool a few hundred yards downstream.

  “Apparently, the girl was trapped under that same rock for awhile,” Deputy Fansett said. “At some time during the night, with the changing water level, the body became dislodged and the current took the victim downstream.”
   Drowning is the number one cause of death in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. In the past, there have been several drownings at Hospital Rock, including two other victims who drowned at this locale in 2003.

* * *


Sequoia National Park

one cabin (or two) at a time

Restoration ongoing at Cabin Creek

ORIGIN OF ‘CABIN CREEK’ PLACE NAME— Cabin Meadow was so-named for a cabin left there by a 19th-century sheepherder. The creek name was added later.


   With high-profile projects like the rehabilitation of Generals Highway grabbing all the attention of late, another rehab project is being completed quietly and under the radar of park visitors and even most National Park Service employees. Actually, that’s just the way Ron “Thor” Riksheim and his crew of five like it.
   That’s because these specialized maintenance/construction workers make up what’s known in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as the “historic preservation crew.” Their current project is the rehabilitation of two Civilian Conservation Corps-era cabins (1934-1935) and a garage at Cabin Creek.
   The Cabin Creek site is located east of the Generals Highway and two miles northwest of Dorst Campground at 6,800 feet.
   Although the crew members change with the seasons, one constant is Thor, the crew’s supervisor. He has been involved in these preservation projects since he came on board with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1993.
   Thor, 56, is a native of the Bay Area, where his parents still reside, and a UC Berkeley alum. He directs the hands-on historic-preservation efforts of the local national parks. In the last two decades, he’s worked at the most important and remote historic properties in the local parks.
   Last season, the crew completed some rehab work at the Redwood Meadow Ranger Station. He says that besides that “front-country” job, among his favorite places to work are the Kern and Hockett Meadow ranger stations in the backcountry.
   But when it comes to historic structures anywhere in the park, he’s most likely seen them all, including having the privilege, he said, of currently living in the restored residence behind the Giant Forest Museum.
   His living quarters, formerly used by the chief ranger, like the buildings at Cabin Creek, are listed on The National Register of Historic Places, so any rehabilitation work done at these sites is done with great care.

  “Recently, historic preservation has undergone some changes in how the work is done at these sites,” Thor said. “The language has softened from ‘must be done’ to ‘should be done.’”
   Thor said when working on these old buildings, it’s just not possible or practical to always use the same materials. He cited the interior walls of one of the Cabin Creek cabins as an example. They are being done with today’s standard sheetrock and not the 1930s-era composite material. Paint colors, too, have become uniform throughout the parks, which makes more sense from a procurement standpoint.
   For almost everything else, he said — the shingle roof, wood siding, granite foundation — like materials are used exclusively. Every attempt is made to preserve the original materials and fixtures like the bathtub and the windows.
   Thor lights up when visitors come calling who have stories or recollections about these historic properties.
   On Tuesday, July 14, Jim and Jeanette Barton of Three Rivers stopped by for a visit. The Bartons spent 11 summers at Cabin Creek when Jim was a seasonal ranger during the 1950s and ‘60s.
   Cabin Creek has undergone some changes, the Bartons related, but the place still has its peaceful forest setting and lots of great memories. Jim, who worked nearby as the Dorst Campground ranger, said in those days, there was a network of maintained trails in the area, including one that led all the way to the Colony Mill Ranger Station below Crystal Cave.
   Recently, Thor said, the Cabin Creek buildings have been used for their kitchen and bathroom facilities, similar to the headquarters of a work camp. The structures, he said, had some serious issues and were urgently in need of repair.
   Thor said it will probably take another month to finish at Cabin Creek, then he and his crew will move on to the Pear Lake Ranger Station to re-roof that historic structure. Thor’s job of historical preservation in some of the most beautiful settings anywhere is the proverbial “tough job” but, he agreed, someone has to do it.

Making the List:

On the National Register

   The National Register of Historic Places (NR) is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The program was authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is administered by the National Park Service, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior.
   The National Register is part of a national program to coordinate public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect historic and archaeological resources. Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.
   Throughout the United States, there are 85,014 places listed and, at last count, 13,594 historic district listings.
   In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, there are more than three dozen sites, structures, and objects listed, or determined eligible to be listed, on the NR. Each listing includes several pages of documents consisting of site mapping, descriptions, and a statement of why the property is significant.
   The majority of the listings in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, including the Cabin Creek property (1978), were listed in the late 1970s. The last and most recent local parks resource to be listed for inclusion in the NR is the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape (2003).
   The Cabin Creek ranger residence and dormitory are situated in a dense conifer forest at 6,800 feet. The two buildings are in a line approximately 50 yards west of the creek.
   Both structures are wood frame, resting on concrete foundations faced with native granite. The wood-shingled roofs are supported by pole rafters and gable brackets.
   The ranger residence is a three-room house with one bath; it is a rectangular building measuring 34 by 21 feet, including its front and rear porches.
   The adjacent dormitory structure measures 23 by 45 feet and is divided into two halves; the south half is a two-room dormitory with bath and the northern half is a two-car garage. Like the adjoining ranger residence, it includes front and rear porches under its rectangular roof.
   The Cabin Creek ranger residence and dorm are excellent examples of National Park Service rustic architecture. They were built by Civilian Conservation Camp (CCC) enrollees during 1934 and 1935, coinciding with the opening of the Generals Highway extension to General Grant National Park (now Kings Canyon National Park).
   Originally, the cabins housed NPS rangers who worked at the then-new, but now gone Lost Grove entrance station.

Going home to

Cabin Creek

by Sarah Elliott

   My earliest memories are of Cabin Creek in Sequoia National Park. Even before entering the cabin last week during our tour of the site, I knew the floor plan, right down to the closets.
   This cabin was my summer home from the ages of 1 to 4. My parents, Jim and Jeanette Barton, lived there for 11 summers total, although they were stationed several other places, too, during my dad’s more than two decades as a seasonal ranger.
   I credit this upbringing, which also included summers in Yellowstone, with imprinting on me a love for wild places and the natural world. My childhood summers were spent away from television and telephone and even electricity, with the majority of my days being spent outside and at elevations of 6,800 to 7,800 feet.
   The Cabin Creek area is located along the Generals Highway between Dorst Campground and Lost Grove. The cabins are situated well off the road and where the forest gives way to a meadow.
   As the name implies, there is a creek that meanders by in front of the cabin. Wading and fishing for minnows with line tied to a stick were how this waterway was utilized.
   The clothesline is still out back. My mom used a propane gas wringer washer on the back porch.
   These days, the access road to the cabin seems shorter. Maybe it’s just that my legs are longer than they were when my mom would walk my brother and me to the end of the driveway to meet my dad when he came from work.
   It was an idyllic setting from which to embark on the rest of my life. It is part of the reason I chose to return to Three Rivers and the Sierra to raise my children.

—Theresa Doffing graphic


* * *

Pot plots targeted in foothills

   In 2008, it was the remote foothills and mountainous areas on public lands in Tulare County that got all the attention and grabbed headlines for huge pot busts. Last July and August, more than 100,000 plants with a street value of millions of dollars were eradicated.
   This year, it’s the same story but most of the manpower and resources have been shifted northward to Fresno County. During the past two weeks, more than 300 law officers from 17 agencies have been flying over and hiking up and down some of the more remote areas in the forested public lands east of Fresno.
   Each season, a state task force selects a region to attack in their war on illicit marijuana growers. This year, it’s Fresno County’s turn to receive the funding and the personnel.
   Chris Curtice, a spokesperson for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, said dozens have been arrested and a cache of weapons has been confiscated. The campaign, dubbed “Operation Save Our Sierra,” has pulled out thousands of plants grown almost exclusively by Mexican cartels.
   The cartels plant the pot patches, and Mexican nationals tend the plots and guard the rapidly maturing cash crop. These illegal guest gardeners often stay in the forests for several months as payment for their resettlement.
   What they leave behind, the tons of refuse, may even be a more serious long-term problem than the pot itself. The illicit camps scar the environment and cost untold millions to mitigate the damage to public lands.
   Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have cleaned up a few sites but are awaiting funding to restore all the damage from 2008. This year, local park rangers have located and eradicated more plots, some in areas that were used in the past.
   The cartels know some of their plots will be located and destroyed, but the profits of the others not found, estimated to be as high as 70 percent, will more than offset the losses. Sheriff Bill Wittman, who headed up Tulare County’s eradication team in 2008, said that in one “stepped up” month his officers and the task force wiped out about 10 percent of the total season’s crop in Tulare County.

  “I’d like to believe we got even more than that,” Wittman told the audience at a Three Rivers town meeting last spring.
   Sequoia rangers, who have stepped up local efforts since 2001, believe they have driven most of the growers out of Kaweah drainages inside park boundaries. But the fact remains, the cartels are still operating in Tulare County on public lands and will continue to do so as long as there are huge profits to be reaped.

Traffic delays on Generals Highway

   Beginning last week, the Generals Highway road rehabilitation began in earnest. The current phase of roadwork is occurring between Halstead Meadow and the Little Baldy summit.
   Asphalt is being removed on this section of roadway, so travelers will be driving on dirt until the paving is complete. The Park Service is urging motorcyclists and bicycle riders to especially use caution when on this section of the Generals Highway.
   One-hour delays should be expected between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Half-hour delays will occur from 6 to 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m.
   Traffic release will occur simultaneously at the top of the hour from both directions during the one-hour delay period. For the 30-minute delays, traffic will be let through simultaneously at the top and bottom of the hour.
   On a nearby section of road — from the Wuksachi intersection to Halstead Meadow — there will be intermittent periods of miscellaneous work, including installation of an underdrain. Continuous single-lane traffic flow will occur with minimal delays.

Lightning ignites

five backcountry fires

   Those massive thunderheads that built up over the nearby mountains on July 18 and 19 not only brought some significant rainfall to Mineral King on Sunday, they also brought numerous lightning strikes. At least five of those strikes ignited fires from Hockett Meadow in the southern portion of Sequoia Park to Burnt Mountain north of Tehipite Valley in Kings Canyon National Park.
   The Horse Fire located at 9,100 feet near the headwaters of Horse Creek had charred about two acres as of July 23. It’s currently been assigned an active status and some smoke is visible from Mineral King.
It has some potential for growth so two monitors have been detailed to the area to assess fuels and potential for growth.
   The Laurel and Red Spur fires are both burning in the Kern River drainage. Neither blaze is active or considered much of a threat to spread beyond the approximately one-tenth of an acre already burned.
   The Scaffold Fire, burning near Scaffold Meadow north of the Roaring River Ranger Station, has burned less than an acre at 8,000 feet. It shows some potential for growth so fire managers are keeping a close watch.
   The Burnt Fire is burning near Burnt Mountain at an elevation of 9,000 feet. It has burned less than an acre and shows little potential for growth.
   Currently, there is no threat to lives or property from any of the fires burning in the nearby national parks.

Extreme heat may aggravate

chronic medical conditions

   The heatwave that Tulare County is currently experiencing is making everyone uncomfortable, but individuals with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma and other lung conditions can be especially sensitive to these extreme temperatures.

  “The body’s normal response to heat can be adversely affected by chronic health conditions,” said Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County Health Officer. “Many medicines prescribed for chronic conditions such as depression, insomnia, and poor circulation impair the body’s ability to control temperature or inhibit perspiration.”
   In addition, air quality in Tulare County is a serious factor, and air quality actually worsens during a heatwave, affecting individuals with chronic health conditions even more. Those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses are urged to monitor their respiratory health and seek medical treatment as needed.
   Also, know the symptoms for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
   Heat exhaustion— This is typically caused when people who are not well adjusted to heat exercise in a hot, humid environment. Fluids and salt are lost through sweating, causing the body to
   Symptoms include: paleness with cool, moist skin; sweating profusely; muscle cramps or pains; feeling faint or dizzy; headache, weakness, thirst, and nausea; and elevated core temperature and increased pulse rate.
   Heat exhaustion may be treated by cooling the body and drinking fluids. Call a doctor if the person is unable to keep fluids down or if their mental status begins to deteriorate.
   Heat stroke— The classic form occurs in people whose cooling mechanisms are impaired. The exertional form occurs in previously healthy people who are undergoing strenuous activity in a hot environment.
   Symptoms include loss of consciousness or a markedly abnormal mental status (dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, or coma); flushed, hot, dry skin; slightly elevated blood pressure that falls later; hyperventilating; core temperature of 105 degrees or more.
   Suspected heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. Go to the hospital or call an ambulance and request information as to what to do until the ambulance arrives.


  The best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. Extreme heat tips include:

  —Stay indoors and avoid extreme temperature changes.

  —Limit activity indoors and, especially, outside.

  —Drink a lot of water or other
fluids, but avoid coffee, soda with caffeine, tea, and alcohol, as these dehydrate the body.

  —Use electrical fans to circulate cool air at home and at work.

  —Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting cotton clothing.

  —If the power fails, go to a friend’s house, local business, or a local cooling center.

  —If feeling ill, attempt cooling measures before seeking medical attention, such as moving to a cooler area, minimizing activity, drinking fluids, and using cool, wet cloths or other methods to cool the body.

  —Seek medical attention if symptoms develop such as heavy sweating, cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, confusion, throbbing headache, or rapid heart rate.

  —If struggling with finances, make the electric bill a priority. If needed, contact the electric company about payment options for electric bills.

Travel club sets sights on

Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park

   On Friday through Sunday, Aug. 14 to 16, about 100 enthusiasts of this country’s national parks will converge on Three Rivers and Sequoia. The reason for this mass trek is for folks to attend the seventh annual convention of the National Park Travelers Club.
   This year’s convention will be headquartered at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, but members, and some non-members, will be staying throughout the area and visiting the local attractions.
   The National Park Travelers Club (NPTC) was officially formed in 2004 at the second annual gathering of a group of people who met via the Internet to talk about the parks and exchange information about the Passport Stamps that can be obtained at any national park, part of the “Passports to Your National Parks” program.
   The Passports serve as a way to record your visits to national parks by taking the booklet to a “Cancellation Station,” typically found in the visitor centers.
   Since that time, the club has incorporated and is currently seeking 501(c)7 status with the IRS. On the club’s website — www.parkstamps.org — the NPTC maintains a list of all known variations of the Passport cancellation stamps at the parks (the “Master List”), as well as a Google map of all the known locations using GPS coordinates (the “Master Map”).
   Among the NPTC membership are those who have actually visited all 391 national parks units, some of which are only accessible by float plane (Alaska).
   Each year, the club has its annual convention at a different national park, and for the locations, they alternate the “regions” that are outlined by the Passport program. This year, the NPTC chose the Western Region for the convention, and Sequoia National Park as the host park.

  “Sequoia National Park is welcoming us with open arms and will provide guest speakers for attendees,” said Tristan Davis, NPTC convention host and membership director. “Addi-tionally, representatives of the Tubatulabals of Kern Valley will give a presentation to those attending.”
   All in all, it looks to be one of the most well-attended conventions the group has had to date, and the agenda is packed. In addition to the convention meeting Saturday afternoon, there will be a dinner gathering in Three Rivers on Friday night, a Junior Ranger activity on Saturday morning for families, and a special ranger-guided hike on Sunday.
   To top it all off, the NPTC will have a special Passport Stamp specific to the convention and the park that will be available only during the convention weekend and only to attendees of the convention.

  “All of the convention meetings and activities are open to the public,” said Tristan. “Although we hope everyone will want to join our club when they see how much fun we have!”

Food, fun, and firefighters

   A festival in July? It’s too hot!
   That is what people said when the Three Rivers Historical Society wanted to plan a fundraiser in conjunction with the Three Rivers volunteer firefighters. And because it was July, the traditional thing to do was to have a “Hot Dog” Festival.
   Hot or not, it all came together and was an overwhelming success. Expecting 100 to 200 people, the volunteer firefighters and museum volunteers ultimately served hot dogs, corn-on-the-cob, and root beer floats to more than 500.
   While the Three Rivers volunteer firefighters manned the barbecues, fire safety information was provided by Cal Fire and National Park Service personnel.
   This was a multi-community event, supported by seven health-industry businesses from Visalia, as well as U.S. Food Services, Culligan Water of Lindsay, and the A&W Root Beer Floatmobile. Music was provided by Mankin Creek, consisting of Esther Zurcher and Keith Hamm of Three Rivers.
   It was the hard work of a lot of volunteers and the support of the community that made the Hot Dog Festival such a success.
   According to Nancy Brunson, Historical Society vice president, crowds began gathering around 11 a.m. Many tourists dropped by just to see what was going on.
   She said that Historical Society volunteers agreed that about half of the event attendees were locals supporting the firefighters and museum, while the other half were tourists.

  “One charming family from Europe hesitated to order root beer floats as their children had never tasted root beer,” said Nancy. “After taste-testing the beverage, they ordered root beer floats all around!”
   Shade tents with tables, red-checkered tablecloths, festive decorations, and hay-bale seating provided the perfect spot to enjoy a midday meal.

Woodlake Car Show: It’s a win-win

by Brian Rothhammer

   How could a day at the park be so cool, even when it’s over 100 degrees outside?
   Start with Woodlake City Park. Now add dozens of the coolest, smoothest, chopped, nosed, decked, shaved, frenched, immaculately painted, metal sculptures on wheels.
   Then add in the wide variety of other show-quality rides that made up the 11th annual Woodlake Custom Car and Bike Show.
   With 164 entrants, the July 18 show was a resounding success for the Woodlake Valley Chamber of Commerce and for all who attended. There were 84 trophies awarded to proud winners in 38 judging categories.
   The passion for these showpieces spans generations, as with Vinny Carlos’s award-winning 1938 Chevrolet coupe. Vinny has spent countless hours building the car in honor of his father Louis Carlos, the Chevy’s previous owner.
   The “Oldies But Goodies” cruise night on Friday, July 17, was also a night of fun, show, and shine. Throughout the weekend activities, there were no incidents reported by the Woodlake Police Department.
   For the first time, the Tulare County R/C Club hosted a series of 1/10-scale races, which created spectator interest.

  “We will be back next year,” said organizer Johnny Trovao.
Bill Drewry of Three Rivers has a shiny new 2009 trophy to go with his 1926 Ford Model T pickup. Back in 1968, Bill helped a friend move the ol’ flivver, then a “basket case,” from Visalia to Bonanza, Ore.
   Over the next decade, the Ford was restored, and last year Bill bought the Tin Lizzie and brought her back to Tulare County.

  “I’ve really been enjoying it,” said Bill. “It’s a real kick to drive.”
   Some get their kicks on Route 66. With the annual Woodlake Car Show, the “Oldies but Goodies” cruise night, and the newly featured remote-control car races, Kaweah Country residents can get their kicks a lot closer to home.
   For the 12th annual Custom Car Show dates, stay tuned to THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH or contact the Woodlake Valley Chamber of Commerce at 564-6559.

Weekly tip

Deciphering produce

  In recent years, you may have noticed stickers glued to your store-bought produce. You most likely notice them only when you are preparing to eat the food and must first remove the label.
   These stickers actually contain information that are helpful when making a produce purchase:

  —Conventional produce has a four-digit number.

  —Organic produce has a five-digit number that starts with a 9.

  —Genetically modified (GM) produce has a five-digit number that starts with an 8.
   These PLU (price look-up) stickers are optional, so GM fruit may not be voluntarily labeled due to the ongoing controversy surrounding this type of produce.

How to buy organic… or not

  IN AN IDEAL WORLD, all of the food we consume would be organic (and locally grown). But, unfortunately, not only are organic foods harder on the wallet, some organic items can be more difficult to find as well.
   The Environmental Working Group has recently updated their list of the best fruits and vegetables to buy organic and those that are lowest in pesticides. If we can’t eat a completely organic diet, we can at least cut down our exposure to harmful pesticides by choosing our organics wisely.
   Here is the new list of the Dirty Dozen, the best foods to buy organic, starting with the worst: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarine, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes, carrots, and pears.
   Here are the Clean Fifteen, the fruits and vegetables that are the lowest in pesticides: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwis, cabbage, eggplants, papayas, watermelons, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

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
© Copyright 2003-2009 The Kaweah Commonwealth