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In the News - Friday, July 25, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)




Lake Kaweah claims a victim

   It all happened so fast that details remain sketchy as to what actually caused Cruz Lopez, 40, of Tulare to have trouble swimming in the water below the Slick Rock parking area. After a brief struggle, Lopez was pulled back to the shore by two other swimmers but he never regained consciousness.
   The tragedy began like so many other Lake Kaweah family outings. Several family members were swimming in the popular recreation area on Friday afternoon, July 11.
   According to the man’s wife, Cruz had been back onshore and decided to re-enter the water. In what the wife described as only a minute or two later, she heard some sort of commotion in the water and couldn’t see her husband.
   Another witness at the scene, who aided in pulling the victim out, said that Cruz was already facing down in the water when he and another man began pulling him to shore.

  “He was only a few yards from shore but the fact that he was a large man made it difficult to pull him toward shore and keep his face out of the water,” the witness reported.
   Two persons at the scene administered CPR until ambulance personnel arrived. Paramedics took over administering to the victim, who according to Valerie McKay, a park ranger on-scene, still had a pulse and heartbeat when the victim was loaded into ambulance.
   Cruz was transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital and placed in the intensive care unit. According to Ranger McKay’s report, a few hours later, the victim was pronounced dead.
   Sgt. Wright of the Tulare County Coroner’s Office confirmed that the victim’s death was caused by drowning.

  “A drowning usually occurs when a victim becomes overheated and then enters the cold water,” Sgt. Wright said. “The sudden change in temperature causes the swimmer to become disoriented and panic and the result is that the victim’s lungs rapidly fill with water.”
   The Cruz fatality is the first drowning of the season in the area around Three Rivers and Lake Kaweah. Another death occurred on June 23 when a Visalia woman fell from her kayak and drowned in the Kings River near Boyden Cave.

Catching a ride

on the Sequoia Shuttle

   Amidst glowing reports that 2,500 passengers have used the Sequoia Shuttle route from Visalia and Three Rivers since it began service on May 21, a potential pool of local riders remains largely untapped and there’s really no concerted plan to lure more Three Rivers riders into the scenario.
   Now in its second season, according to a July 22 statement issued by Monty Cox, City of Visalia transit manager, the new transport service from Visalia’s perspective is nearing its second-year projections. But county officials and Three Rivers residents are wondering if an 11 percent increase in riders means the Shuttle is half-full or half-empty?

  “Last year, ridership for the Shuttle was at 30 percent capacity,” said Cox. “Our goal is to increase that number to 50 percent by the end of the season with the addition of two more buses. Named as one of America’s great adventure destinations, the City of Visalia strives to provide convenient and affordable service to residents and visitors interested in experiencing the adventure that awaits them.”
   The adventure that awaits those who board in Visalia is more than a two-hour ride away, the time it takes for the multi-passengers vans or mini-buses to negotiate Highway 198 into Sequoia Park and up to a drop-off zone adjacent to the Giant Forest Museum. Three Rivers, a gateway to Sequoia National Park, is little more than a whistle stop at the Comfort Inn where some savvy tourists board morning shuttles in the hopes of avoiding the hour’s drive up the winding mountain road to Giant Forest.
   A few riders have also boarded at the Three Rivers Memorial Building that serves as a quasi-transit center. But riders from other tourist properties, if the operators choose to publicize the service, still drive personal vehicles to park at the Memorial Building or continue on into the park where $20 a carload may seem better spent than a $15 per person shuttle ride.
   Riders who want to visit Kaweah Country without driving are left without the means to utilize the public transport that the shuttles provide. There is no morning return service either from the park or Three Rivers, and drivers cannot take fares and are permitted to stop only at designated shuttle stops thus nixing any walk-ons.
   Once in the loading zone at Giant Forest, riders may transfer to free shuttles that ply the Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road or board a larger bus bound for lower Sherman Tree, upper Sherman Tree, Lodgepole and Wuksachi. Riders that enter the park via shuttle have a scheduled return and must be concerned with connections because on the departing-hourly shuttles that begin at 2:30 p.m. in Giant Forest there are few seats and no last-minute changes.
   From Sequoia Park’s perspective the partnership with the City of Visalia is a win-win as the shuttles are a huge improvement over two years ago when no mass transport was available. As with so many pilot programs, the service does not come cheap or without problems.

  “We really would like to see more visitors get used to leaving their cars entirely while they are here in the parks,” said Alexandra Picavet, parks’ spokesperson. “That upper parking lot at the Sherman Tree gets really crowded, especially during the busy weekends and these folks are taking the shuttle from there.”
   To make matters worse, two of the three larger shuttles were out of service with mechanical problems for most of last week. When that happens, service declines and its standing room only for a route that takes 40 minutes each way between Giant Forest Museum and Wuksachi.

  “To make the service permanent, we need to prove to the agencies that furnished the grants that the shuttle service is really working,” said Picavet. “A decision will be made after the 2009 season if the service is to continue.”
   There is no doubt that an internal park shuttle Giant Forest to Wuksachi is necessary and viable.
   With the external route outside the park (Visalia to Ash Mountain) running at less than 50 percent capacity, Three Rivers is the more obvious hub of the service and could easily furnish more riders than shuttle seats. But to grow the service and really make it workable, the City of Visalia would have to partner with Tulare County and admit that, for most tourists, the park adventure begins and ends in Three Rivers, not in Visalia.

Kings Canyon hiker rescued

   Roaring River Falls in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park is most often accessed by an easy, quarter-mile, paved trail that leads directly to the base of the falls. But venturing off-trail and up-river beyond this point, the terrain quickly becomes steep and treacherous. This is what Rick Kohltfarber, 26, and his friends discovered on Wednesday, July 9.
   Kohltfarber fell approximately 12 feet into Roaring River where he struck a rock and dislocated his shoulder. He was then swept over a 30-foot waterfall before grabbing onto a boulder above Roaring River Falls.
   After Kohltfarber’s friends called for help, Debbie Brenchley, search-and-rescue ranger, was shorthauled to the victim’s location. Both were then flown to the waiting Cedar Grove ambulance, where Kohltfarber was treated by a park medic.
   According to David Schifsky, Grant Grove sub-district ranger, this was the ninth search-and-rescue operation that occurred in Kings Canyon National Park in as many days, six of which were major SARs.

Wildland fire near Lake Kaweah

   A turkey vulture versus a high-voltage transmission line sparked a five-acre blaze across from the Slick Rock recreation area that was quickly extinguished by Tulare County and Cal Fire firefighting units. One hilltop home was immediately threatened but air attacks averted the threat.

Solo-vehicle wreck

closes Hwy. 198

   On Thursday, July 24, at approximately 5:45 a.m. a car hit an embankment on the highway around Lake Kaweah. The highway was closed for more than an hour as crews cleared the scene. Only minor injuries were reported.

Survival against all odds:

Amy Racina on her walk in the woods

   She has a smile that’s infectious, a zest for life, and a massive scar on her right knee. All of these traits can be attributed to a time not so long ago when Amy Racina, alone and seriously injured in Kings Canyon National Park, didn’t know if she was going to live or die.
Amy, who wrote a book about her death-defying experience while backpacking, was in Mineral King last Saturday to discuss her solo-backpacking incident that occurred five years ago in August 2003 and culminated in a book. She had come full circle, at least in her hiking life, as Mineral King was where she embarked on her first backpacking trip with her father and brother when she was 16 years old.
   This original journey led her on a path that ultimately resulted in a lifelong passion for escaping into the wilderness. She was backpacking solo within a decade.
   With hundreds, actually thousands, of miles under her belt, and when 140 miles into a 160-mile trip five summers ago, Amy took one step that would change her life forever. She was on an abandoned trail in Kings Canyon National Park heading down the 3,200 vertical feet and 100 switchbacks to the Tehipite Valley, an area described as an undiscovered Yosemite along the Middle Fork of the Kings River.
   On a narrow section of trail that was covered with shale and a carpet of dried oak leaves, Amy grabbed a handhold on a small tree and planted her boot. The hillside gave way and Amy and her 33-pound pack separated, both tumbling 60 feet down and going airborne before landing on the water-polished granite of a streambed below.
   Amy writes in her book: “Now, crippled in the ravine, I see that my pack has mercifully fallen within reach. It is light enough that I can pull it toward me. I hug my pack to me. It has been a cherished companion, and just now, it seems to me to be my only friend. Immobilized and badly injured, without my gear, I would have had no chance at all. I give thanks for every hour I have spent obsessing over each piece of equipment. I have hot tea to comfort me. I even have a book to read.”
   But there are a couple of pressing problems. First, the injuries:
   Her knee is a gaping wound with bones protruding. Fingers are bent at odd angles. A thigh is scraped and oozing. She also had a broken nose and a missing front tooth. She cannot walk; in fact, she can barely move.
   Second, a trailhead ranger had informed her at the outset of her trip that less than a half-dozen people travel this trail each season, so it was a distinct possibility that help might not arrive in a timely manner.
   Because “survival” is in the book’s title and she showed up to give the talk in Mineral King, it’s not a big reveal to say that Amy lived through her ordeal, but “against all odds” aptly describes how it came to be that she was given a second chance. To say that the stars aligned to ensure her rescue and subsequent recovery is an understatement.
   Although her initial prognosis for a full recovery was grim, Amy regained her ability to walk… and hike. More amazingly, she has resumed her solo backcountry trips, although she now harbors a fear of high, steep places.
   Yet Amy said she plans to one day return to the Tehipite switchbacks in an effort to better understand what happened that day five summers ago.
   Angels in the Wilderness is available for sale at Sequoia-Kings Canyon visitor centers, online at www.sequoiahistory.org (click on Bookstore, then “Hiking, Backpacking…”), and at major booksellers.

Thai delegation visits Sequoia

   On Monday, July 21, dignitaries from the National Parks of Thailand were in Sequoia National Park to experience firsthand how America’s national parks operate. They were escorted locally by Craig Axtell, superintendent, Colleen Bathe, chief of interpretation, Alex Picavet, public information officer, and Paul Pfenninger, district interpreter.

  The Thai delegation also visited Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon national parks on their western tour. The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department of Thailand manages 103 national parks.

Sequoia Field Institute offers

backpacking opportunities

   For those with the urge to head into the spectacular Sierra backcountry but may lack the know-how to head out alone, there are several upcoming group trips being offered through the Sequoia Field Institute, a division of the Sequoia Natural History Association.
   From July 30 to August 6, Jim Warner will hit the trail for the Siberian Outpost on this weeklong outing. Difficulty: Very strenuous (ages 16 and older). Price: $370 (SNHA member, $322).
Jim Warner will also be Exploring the Elizabeth Pass/Coppermine Area from August 21-27. Difficulty: Very strenuous. Price: $272 (SNHA member, $313).
   Expert mountaineer Randy Coffman will lead the way To Whitney Country: High Sierra Trail Adventure during an 11-day trip from Thursday to Sunday, Aug. 21 to 31. Difficulty: Strenuous. Price: $375 (SNHA member, $431).
   For these trips, participants will need to supply basic backpacking equipment (some rentals available) and their own food. Visit www.sequoiahistory.org or call 565-4251 for more information.

Firewood available

in Mineral King

   Twenty cords of surplus pine is available for cutting and removal until it is gone. Firewood permits are required prior to removal and must be obtained in person at the Mineral King Ranger Station from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
   The cost is $10 per cord (cash or check) with a limit of six cords per family. For additional requirements and restrictions, call the Mineral King Ranger Station, 565-3768.

3R Woman's Club

announces 2008/2009 officers


- 2008/2009 -
President: Estelle Christensen
Vice President: Bev Slinger
Secretary: Carlene Mooneyham
Treasurer: Karen McIntyre
Directors: Carolyn Talley, Linda Lewis
Membership: Kathy Bohl
Historians: Kim Kauling, Annie Hayes
Membership booklet: Marta Stiltz
The Thingerie chairwomen:
Mary Hohne, Pat Crain
The Thingerie treasurer: Wilma Kauling
The Thingerie scheduler: Fran Hawkins
Hospitality chairwomen:
Polly Kelch, Dot Robb
Scholarship: Mary Scharn
Publicity: Annie Hayes

  Last month, at the last meeting before their annual summer break, the Three Rivers Woman's Club announced their incoming officers that will lead the club into its 92nd year. At the gala luncheon at St. Anthony Retreat attended by club members, Estelle Christensen was installed as president for the second consecutive year.

  The club's responsibilities are many, so board members are rarely idle during their reign. The club owns and operates The Thingerie, the Three Rivers thrift shop for more than 30 years, which is its main source of income.

  And that income is not spent frivolously. It is distributed as needed to community projects that enhance the quality of life in Three Rivers as well as to students in the form of scholarships to reward them for a job well done and assist them with the expenses of higher education.

  Club member Clancy Blakemore was in charge of the installation festivities and the theme was flowers and their symbolic meanings. For instance, the directors who manage the club's funds received a buttercup and a tiger lily, which traditionally represent riches, wealth, and success.

  The treasurer was presented with wheat (abundance), the secretary received an iris (message carrier), the vice president was given a daffodil (respect and regard), and President Estelle was honored with a chrysanthemum for cheerfulness in leadership. Club members in attendance each were presented with a yellow rose, signifying friendship.

Conversations with Pastor: A tribute

Re: Warren L. Campbell (1926 - July 8, 2008)

   It was 17 years ago this month that Pastor Warren Lee Campbell and I first met when I was invited to his church just up the road from where I was living on the North Fork.
   Our first real meeting between us was a disaster. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I rode a bicycle.
   Undeterred, he asked me what church I was affiliated with. I said, Marble Collegiate in New York, Dutch Presbyterian. He smiled and nodded, wondering what to say next. An awkward, pregnant pause followed, until I perked up, “Perhaps you’ve heard of my pastor, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale?” That did it. Pastor was soon out the door.
   In time, he would tell me his version of that first meeting. He was taken aback by who my former pastor was, because compared to Dr. Peale, Warren Lee Campbell was just a country preacher, to which I would reply, “That may be true, but I’ve learned more from you than I ever have from a 33rd-degree Mason with more degrees in theology than one could count.”
   He once laid something on me so bold, so profound, that it changed the course of my life, when he told me that “an average person lives to be 70 to 80 years old, and in the course of their life, they will influence at least 10,000 people for good or evil.” Because of that single fact, I am constantly on guard in all that I do or say, for I know I am accountable to God for my actions.
   Fifteen years ago my world, as I knew it then, came crashing down around me. When I needed a friend, someone to reach out to me, it was Pastor who invited me to live on the ranch.
   It was also at this time that the church was going through a transformation from a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation to a real church. Pastor said he had to make sure his church was free before he died. He didn’t want God to be ashamed of him when they met.  This idea of a free church didn’t sit well with about a third of the congregation. We definitely went through our Baptism of Fire for the first six months of 1993, but we prevailed and today stand as a testimony to that decision.
   During those turbulent times, we grew close. Over the next decade of living on the ranch, whenever he needed something done, a problem to be fixed, I was his man; I was his confidant.
   When the church was about to be closed down by the tax man in August 1999, the problem was taken care of. When he wanted a churchyard because he didn’t want to be buried in the Three Rivers Cemetery, he gave the word and it was done. Kaweah has an unusual town sign because of Pastor Campbell.
   We had many experiences together that could fill a book, but one in particular really emphasized his character and showed me the man he really was.
   It was an early, frosty morning in February 1995 when I spotted his car in the parking lot of the Noisy Water restaurant and stopped in to see him. He was sitting at the counter alone, nursing a coffee, looking melancholy and deep in thought when I took a seat next to him.
   I asked him how he was, and he blurted out, “I miss my son, Jonathan.” There was an awkward moment between us. Jonathan died of cancer in 1983 and Pastor had never quite gotten over the loss.
   I chose my next words slowly; carefully. “Do you realize Jonathan’s death made you a better Pastor?” He looked at me quizzically. “How so?”

  “The next memorial service you did for the parents that lost a child, you could now feel what they felt. You now had a common bond.”
He perked up in his seat and nodded. “Yes, you’re right, now that I think of it. I did become a better Pastor. The Lord did bless me in that way.”

  “He also blessed you another way, Pastor. Because of the loss of Jonathan, the Lord multiplied you with many sons and daughters, of which I can count myself as one of them.”
   There are many today in Three Rivers and Kaweah, as well as in many other parts of the world that can be proud to say they, too, are a son or daughter of Pastor’s.
   From that moment onward, Pastor was never ashamed to say, either from the pulpit or in person, that he loved me like a son.   Pastor was a man with an open heart and a great love for people. I am not ashamed to speak publicly of my love for him. I am perhaps more ashamed to say I loved him more than my own father.
   Pastor would often compare himself to the prophet Jeremiah by saying that Jeremiah preached for 40 years and had a handful of converts with fingers left over. “That’s the way I feel. I started out with fire for the Lord. I wanted to preach to millions around the world and save souls for Jesus, and as I look upon my life, I ended up being a Jeremiah. Will I die and my words with me?” he would ask. "Will I not be remembered when I’m gone?”

  "Pastor, so long as people are alive that you’ve touched in some way, you will continue to live. And if I have a say, and the Lord continues to bless me, you will be remembered for all eternity until this world passes away.”
   Not long ago, I finished a film called Yesterday’s Dreams, a story about marriage and companionship. Although we shot the film in Oregon, the story really focuses around Three Rivers and Kaweah and some of the people I’ve known. One of them I had to place in the film was Pastor, played by actor Barry Corbin (Lonesome Dove; Northern Exposure).
   Although the film hasn’t been released to the public, I know some people have seen early copies of it. I kept hearing a nagging voice in my head telling me to call Pastor and show him the film.
   Pastor had heard about the film and was eagerly waiting to see it. When he saw Barry playing him, Pastor caught all the little hints; all the little bits of his life I picked up over the years that I placed in the script, and laughed at them, including the mandatory corny joke that had to go in if we were to give Pastor’s character any authenticity.
   Days later, he stopped by the house, smiling and thanking me for placing his character in the film; that now he felt like he would continue to live on. I told him I wasn’t done with the character yet and asked him to help me flesh out my next story idea. He enjoyed coming over and helping out on the script, as I’d make copious notes on his thoughts regarding certain subjects.
   There was always one other thought on his mind when pondering his death. He would often ask, “Kevin, when I die, do you think more enemies or friends will show up at my memorial service?”
I would smile and give him the same answer, “I don’t know, Pastor, but I can promise you one thing... it’ll be standing room only.”
He would smile and laugh. “Yes, sir, I do believe you’re right about that.”
   As I looked about the sanctuary at the church at Kaweah during Pastor’s memorial service on Saturday, July 19, I was glad to see I was.
   Article by Kevin Foster of Kaweah.

Visalia students discover

untapped resources in Three Rivers

   Like all of Pro-Youth/HEART's site directors, Kathy Hays at Washington Elementary in Visalia loves the children under her care and strives to provide her children with every opportunity to learn, follow their dreams, and become full-fledged members of society.    Kathy knows that her children will make major strides in their learning process if they are also able to leave their day-to-day surroundings on occasion and take educational field trips.
   Kathy feels that these field trips can be just as important in the education of a child as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but funding a field trip takes a big bite out of the HEART budget for her site.
Pro-Youth is a Tulare County nonprofit organization that, among other things, sponsors and administrates the HEART afterschool program. HEART (Home-work, Enrichment, Acceleration, Recreation, Teamwork) complements the regular school day by providing academic assistance and enrichment activities free of charge for children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
   Prospects for any large-scale, spring field trip for Kathy’s students appeared grim. What Kathy didn’t realize was that there was another “Kathy” in Three Rivers who was about to take a very active interest in this Pro-Youth/HEART site.
   On Nov. 15, 2007, the other Kathy — Leah Catherine Launey; “Leah” to avoid confusion — stopped in at Pro-Youth's office downtown and spoke to Bud Darwin, training director, about the needs of the children under Pro-Youth’s care.
   Leah is an attorney/mediator who operates Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast. The short conversation with Darwin led to a brainstorming session with Kathy and Bud.
   Leah arrived at the session armed with brochures from the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce visitor center, where she is a director, about free and educational things to do in Three Rivers, Lake Kaweah, and Sequoia National Park. She also had articles and photographs from The Kaweah Commonwealth detailing the wonders of Living History Day, organized annually by the Three Rivers Historical Society; appearances by Wadaba’s West African Drumming group; an article about mediation and the Sequoia Community Mediation Center in Visalia (Leah’s a member/mediator); information about music, artists, and Three Rivers’s 50-year-old Reimer’s Candy Store; and information about the Kaweah Heritage Visitor Center, Terminus Dam, Rangers in the Classroom, and Sequoia National Park — all amazing local resources that are just ready and waiting for Kathy’s children at Washington Elementary.
   An all-day field trip for the children of Washington Elementary was planned, and on Saturday, April 26, the children enjoyed a visit to Don and Teriz Mosley’s South Fork ranch; the Three Rivers Historical Museum; Reimer’s Candies & Gifts to see how candy is made; and Heart’s Desire gift shop for lunch, crafts, and playing along the river.
   At the end of the day, Ranger Larry Baker of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Kaweah gave the children a watershed lecture from the deck located behind Kaweah Heritage Visitor Center, followed by a tour of Terminus Dam. All of these fun and educational services were provided to the Pro-Youth/HEART children for free.
   In addition to Leah assisting with ideas for field-trip destinations and activities, she also provided age-appropriate mediation skills and techniques to HEART program site directors, program leaders, and students. Near the end of the school year, Kathy Hays mentioned that the children were much better behaved and much better equipped to work with each other this year, and she believes it was due to their peer mediation training.
   This past week, July 21 to 25, Kathy and Leah teamed up again. They taught peer mediation to the class of incoming Pro-Youth/HEART program leaders during the annual summer training session.
   Finally, Kathy Hays has expressed a desire to take her students to Sequoia National Park in 2009 as their main field trip. Kathy is currently waiting to receive the date from Sequoia National Park.
   Leah Catherine Launey contributed this article.

Summer entertainment for all

   There are not a lot of structured activities for children and teenagers in Three Rivers during the summer, but one long-running day camp gives local kids a place to play, learn, and socialize during the morning hours for one week each summer and teens an opportunity to provide community-service assistance.

  Vacation Bible School was held July 14 to 18 at the St. Anthony Retreat. This year’s VBS was attended by 50 children with 35 teens and 20 adults helping out in the areas of music, drama, crafts, games, snacks, and more.


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