the News - Friday, August 21, 2009
stories written by John or
Elliott unless otherwise noted
this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
No response to 911 calls
is factor in DUI crash
When a 33-year-old Three Rivers man drove
across two lanes of oncoming traffic on Friday, Aug.
14, as he approached Horse Creek and then wrecked
the 1999 Ford minivan he was driving, it was another
senseless and potentially deadly act of driving under
the influence. Fortunately, no other persons or vehicles
were involved as the vehicle, traveling westbound,
came to a rest facing east after crashing into a rock
on the opposite side of Highway 198.
But according to witnesses who encountered
the intoxicated man at Village Market nearly an hour
before the accident, a reasonable response time to
frantic 911 calls might have prevented the man from
getting behind the wheel in the first place.
One witness, who asked not to be identified,
said that the incident began shortly after 9 p.m.
when the man began allegedly pestering patrons of
Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant. When he was told
to leave that area he became belligerent and made
terrorist threats directed toward anyone within earshot.
The man also approached employees of
Village Market who were closing the store. They later
told the anonymous witness that they were afraid to
go outside to their parked cars because they were
unsure what the agitated, obviously drunk man was
capable of doing.
By this time, the employees had called
their manager, Edmund Pena, who also called 911. Reportedly,
Pena was told that a deputy would be dispatched but
none were currently available.
The witness said that Jim Fansett, Three
Rivers resident deputy, was on call that evening but
he said he never received a call from the dispatcher.
The man reportedly remained in the Village Market
vicinity for at least 40 minutes so there was ample
time to make an arrest before he drove off.
Officer Wright, CHP spokesperson at the
Visalia office, said that a 911 call reporting an
accident near the Horse Creek Bridge came into his
office at 10:35 p.m. The man was treated for his injuries
at the scene and released from county jail the next
On Wednesday, the same man was seen again
walking along the highway in Three Rivers.
“The 911 response is not acceptable and the
Sheriff’s Department needs to provide some answers
as to what’s going on with calls from Three
Rivers,” the witness said. “This individual
is a habitual offender and next time he could kill
Craig Axtell, the superintendent at Sequoia
and Kings Canyon National Parks since January 2006,
made his retirement official this week after working
at six duty stations in some of this nation’s
greatest parks and several NPS offices during a career
that began in 1976. His last day of work at park headquarters
at Ash Mountain will be October 2.
Axtell’s NPS career includes a
number of outstanding achievements including the first
NPS division chief to hire a wildlife veterinarian.
He did that while serving as Chief of Biological Resource
Management in Fort Collins, Colo., during the years
2000-03 where he worked prior to becoming the superintendent
at Bryce Canyon, which is the job he held before coming
to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
A part of the work of that Colorado-based
national office was to study wildlife diseases like
chronic wasting that affects elk and deer herds. Axtell
said the agency’s research on the disease, which
can decimate a wildlife population similar to what
mad cow disease is capable of doing, is on the cutting
edge of determining how wildlife will be managed in
“Today, ecological and environmental issues
are getting so complex,” Axtell said. “The
real challenge for managers is to ensure that park
policy can keep up with the science.”
That essentially is what the career of
Craig Axtell has been all about, he said. His first
job after completing a master’s degree at Colorado
State was in the NPS service center in Denver as a
natural resource economist.
It was fitting, Axtell said, that his
last job would be at Sequoia-Kings Canyon because
a large part of his career has been devoted to studying
wildland fire and implementing park policy. From the
very beginning in the 1960s, Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks has been the leader in wildland fire
While at Sequoia-Kings Canyon these last
three-plus years, Axtell said he was proud of what
he and his divisions have been able to accomplish.
Some were in his parameters of career expertise; all
were important on-going challenges that the next superintendent
must continue to address.
In no particular order, Axtell cited
outstanding success during his tenure in employee
safety, establishing the Giant Forest shuttle, the
war on marijuana-growing on public lands, the Generals
Highway restoration, a conditions assessment of all
the built facilities within the parks, the addition
of the recently designated Krebs Wilderness, continued
leadership in wildland fire management, a memorandum
of understanding with Forest Service agencies to address
climate change, a cooperative program with Yosemite
and University of California at Merced to develop
research and career opportunities, and a concerted
effort to get nearby communities more involved with
the local parks.
“Sequoia has been the perfect place for me because
it is one of the best parks in terms of its resources
and challenges for managing those resources,”
Axtell said. “Wilderness, fire, natural systems,
those areas came easy to me in terms of my career
experiences; marijuana is a law enforcement issue
and was a new challenge.”
Axtell said he ranks Sequoia-Kings Canyon
among the top parks in the system to serve as a superintendent
based on its resources and management challenges.
“Sequoia is among the top 12 of all the nearly
400 units in terms of its complexity,” Axtell
Still relatively young at 56 compared
to most retirees, Axtell said he and his wife Kris
will remain in Three Rivers until next year when she
completes her current contract as the sixth-grade
teacher at Three Rivers School.
Axtell said as long as he continues to
enjoy good health, he plans to ski, backpack, run,
hike, bike, camp, and see some more of California’s
places that he has not had a chance to visit. Then
he and Kris will move back to Colorado to live nearer
to family. The couple has two adult children.
“You name the skiing and I’ll probably
be doing it,” Craig said. “The culture
of the Park Service has always been one that to succeed
you need to be fit. In the NPS, taking care of one’s
self physically is both rewarding and rewarded.”
Since Axtell has maintained his physical
fitness, keep an eye out for him on local trails,
whether on foot, bicycle, or skis.
Delaware North commemorates
Wuksachi Village turns 10
With the blessing of native Wuksachi
people, a host of dignitaries, park employees, media
representatives, and well wishers from many walks
of life gathered Monday, July 27, to celebrate a milestone
in the history of Sequoia National Park. The reception
and slate of four speakers marked an auspicious achievement
by the Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts
— the first 10 years of the operation of Wuksachi
The main lodge and two of its three attendant
lodging buildings (Silliman, Sequoia, and Stewart)
actually opened to the public on May 22, 1999. The
third lodging building was up and running a week later,
just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, traditionally
the start of the busy summer season.
The fact that the $17 million final piece
to Sequoia’s Giant Forest visitor facilities
relocation project was completed on schedule was a
tribute to the vision of a company that has never
waivered in its commitment to provide eco-friendly
Tom McFadden, Wuksachi’s first
general manager, greeted and welcomed those early
visitors to the lodge and 102-room property.
“The Wuksachi Lodge’s distinctive architecture
and décor rivals any great hotel found throughout
the National Park System,” said McFadden. “Both
returning and first-time Sequoia visitors will appreciate
Wuksachi’s unique combination of gracious hospitality
and modern amenities in an unparalleled mountain setting.”
In its first decade, Wuksachi Lodge has
lived up to all its expectations and more. In June
2000, George W. Bush, the only sitting president to
ever visit Sequoia National Park, stayed at the lodge,
requested and received a TV and treadmill in his room,
and raved about the two barbecued pork sandwiches
that room service catered while he watched CNN.
Two more general managers have come and
gone since Tom McFadden, but Wuksachi’s dedicated
staff, under the direction of current general manager
Diane Mason, have remained committed to providing
first-class visitor services no matter what logistical
challenges may come their way – monster snowstorms,
power outages, road closures, and an array of others
routinely encountered when operating at an elevation
of 7,700 feet.
Throughout the transition years (1990s)
from Giant Forest facilities to Wuksachi Lodge, located
four miles west of Lodgepole, Paul Bischoff was employed
by the concessions company. Today he still works part-time
in that role but in addition operates Sequoia Sightseeing,
a Three Rivers-based tour company that he owns with
his wife Becky.
Paul was the opening speaker at the recent
10-year anniversary celebration. He fondly recalled
how he had lived from 1991 to 1998 in Giant Forest
beneath the largest, most grand trees on the planet.
“We centered the Sequoia National Park visitor
in the Giant Forest and it was an experience like
no other,” Paul recalled. “The experiences
of working and playing there forever changed who I
was as a person.”
It was easy, Paul continued, to see that
what was happening in Giant Forest during that era
was detrimental to the ecosystem.
“We were cutting trees to save cabins,”
So while the clock was ticking on the
inevitable closure and removal of hundreds of buildings
in Giant Forest, including 400 lodging units, the
NPS had to find a partner who was willing take on
a relocation project where there were no profits —
only expenditures of millions of dollars in the foreseeable
Armando Quintero, chairman of the board
of directors of the Sequoia Parks Foundation, said
only Jeremy Jacobs, CEO and chairman of the Delaware
North Companies, one of the largest privately held
companies in the U.S., was willing to shoulder the
responsibility of an NPS partnership and make the
“It was Jeremy Jacobs who preserved the ability
of people to visit and enjoy the restored Giant Forest,”
Armando said. “Thanks to Delaware North the
magic of Giant Forest has been greatly enhanced.”
Brad Anderholm, chief operating officer for Delaware
North Companies Parks and Resorts, a subsidiary of
DNC, said that the vision of Jeremy Jacobs, who has
been at the helm of DNC for more than 40 years, made
the company’s multi-million dollar investment
a reality. The company has made the same commitment
in Yosemite, Brad said.
“It’s a way we are giving something back
for all park visitors to enjoy,” Brad said.
Brad admitted that the company made no
profits at Wuksachi until 2008. That same year Jacobs
took time out from his busy schedule to visit Wuksachi,
and now Delaware North is looking for ways to expand
and do even more at Sequoia National Park.
“Every market study is telling us that park
visitors want to stay in cabins,” Brad said.
“The company is currently looking at a number
of cabin plans to be built as the next phase of lodging
development here at Wuksachi.”
Superintendent Craig Axtell closed the
speakers’ portion of the program by praising
Delaware North’s efforts in Sequoia.
“I know of no other place where this [relocation
and reforestation] has happened,” Axtell said.
“Wuksachi will become one of the parks’
historic lodges. Delaware North helps us walk the
After a blessing by Eddie Tupishna Sartuche
of the Wuksachi people there was a hushed exuberance
that came over the assembly at the entrance to Wuksachi
Lodge. All who attended realized that they were indeed
blessed by coming together in the mountains and on
this day, celebrating the first 10 years of what certainly
will be many decades more at Wuksachi Village.
Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts
its commitment to your vacation
DELAWARE NORTH COMPANIES was founded
in 1915 by three Jacobs brothers, including Louis
Jacobs, father of current CEO and chairman Jeremy
THE COMPANY ENTERED the hotel management
arena in 1993 when it began operating in Yosemite
National Park under the terms of the largest concessions
contract in the National Park Service. Delaware North’s
first hotel acquisition — Tenaya Lodge —
was made in 2001. In May 2009, Delaware North purchased
the Holiday Inn in West Yellowstone, Mont. These properties
border two of Delaware North’s major national
DELAWARE NORTH OWNS and/or operates 16
other distinctive lodging properties in North America,
including Wuksachi Lodge and Bearpaw High Sierra Camp
in Sequoia and eight in Yosemite: The Ahwahnee, Wawona
Hotel, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Curry Village,
Housekeeping Camp, White Wolf Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows
Lodge, and the High Sierra Camps. In addition, DNC
owns and operates Tenaya Lodge and the Apple Tree
Inn at the south entrance to Yosemite.
THE COMPANY ALSO owns and operates Harrison
Hot Springs Resort & Spa in British Columbia,
Canada, a historic hotel that dates back to the Gold
Rush. Under contracts with state parks departments,
DNC operates Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs,
N.Y.; The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in Ohio; and
until this year, Asilomar State Beach and Conference
Grounds in Pacific Grove.
ALL THESE PROPERTIES are conscientiously
maintained using the company’s environmentally
friendly philosophy. Today, that is GreenPath®,
the first environmental management system of a U.S.
hospitality company to be registered to the standards
put forth by the International Organization for Standardization
DELAWARE NORTH COMPANIES is one of the
largest privately held companies in the United States
with revenues exceeding $2 billion annually and 50,000
associates serving half a billion customers in the
United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia
and New Zealand.
Horse Fire tops 100 acres
The Horse Fire, a lightning-caused fire
discovered July 19, has grown to 104 acres. The fire
is located in southern Sequoia National Park at 9,100
feet elevation in the vicinity of Hockett Meadow,
near the headwaters of Horse Creek. There are no trail
closures in effect due to this fire, but hikers may
notice smoke when in the area.
There is also a 60-acre prescribed fire
operation ongoing in Crescent Meadow. However, most
of the smoke hanging over Three Rivers this past week
is from wildfires burning in other California locales.
Alum, past faculty
for TRUS reunion
While local kids were still on summer
vacation, another group of Three Rivers Union School
Eagles returned to school to celebrate their 25th
anniversary (or more) of graduating from the school.
The Saturday, Aug. 1, event welcomed all TRUS alumni
and past staff, but was centered on the Class of 1984’s
Event organizer John McKellar was excited
about the turnout.
“You never know if people are going to show
up or not,” said McKellar, who also honored
three retired teachers at the event. “Ultimately,
we had 12 in our class show up out of 21 that graduated.
I am happy about that.”
In all about 35 alumni and their families
came to the open barbecue/potluck event.
Local residents and former teachers Bobbie
Harris and Richard Campe attended along with Steve
Fleming, who traveled from the Central Coast. Each
teacher gave short speeches about their teaching experiences
at Three Rivers School.
“People ask me what I miss the most about teaching,”
Rich said. “It’s the kids — like
Former teacher Mark Brown, who now lives
in Eden Prairie, Minn., could not attend but sent
a letter, which was read at the event.
“I am not kidding that my dream is to one day
move back to Three Rivers and end my teaching career
there,” he wrote. “So let me know if any
jobs open up! School was taught the right way back
in the ‘70s; I still use those days to keep
me on course now.”
Also in attendance was long-time school
secretary/business manager and local resident Valerie
Abanathie and current staff member Barbara Merline.
Some former alumni traveled from out-of-state to the
The reunion also featured a tour of the old classrooms,
a slideshow presentation, and even crafts for the
“Touring the old classrooms was special,”
said McKellar. “Watching people’s faces
and hearing the old stories as we walked the hallways
again were priceless.”
There’s a new Lincoln
You may have noticed some change in your
Ol’ honest Abe has graced the obverse
(front) of the familiar one-cent coin since 1909.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s
birth, four different designs are to be minted during
The first new penny, bearing an image
of Lincoln’s boyhood log-cabin home, has been
scarcely seen here in Three Rivers, though it was
released February 12. The second design, released
on May 14, has recently been in local distribution.
Collector Ken Gunnerud of Three Rivers
was able to acquire several rolls of the coins on
which a young Lincoln is depicted taking a break from
“rail splitting” to read a book. Several
other Three Rivers residents have reported receiving
the new coins as change.
On the third design, released August
13, Lincoln is shown as a lawyer with the Illinois
state capitol in the background.
In November (release date not yet announced),
the fourth of the 2009 designs will be issued with
the U.S. Capitol dome shown in its unfinished state,
as it was during the Civil War.
“This is a momentous occasion in the history
of our nation’s coinage because these designs
represent the first change in the Lincoln cent in
half a century,” said Ed Moy, U.S. Mint director.
In 1959, the original “wheat ears”
reverse design of 1909 was replaced with an image
of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate Lincoln’s
“These coins are a tribute to one of our greatest
presidents, whose legacy has had a lasting impact
on our country,” continued Moy. “He believed
all men were created equal, and his life was a model
for accomplishing the American dream through honesty,
integrity, loyalty, and a lifetime of education.”
Registration now open for
environmental home tour
It is estimated that half of the world’s
population lives in some sort of earth home. The material
is accessible and cheap, such homes provide good insulation
from the elements, and they don’t burn.
There are many ways to build with earth,
but the most ancient dwellings were probably wattle
and daub or branches and sticks plastered with mud.
Adobe is another very old method. In
the southwestern USA, building with adobe has long
been practiced since it is the perfect climate. To
have permanence, adobe requires a long, hot, dry season
to evaporate the moisture it accumulates in the damper,
wetter months. It traditionally also requires overhangs
to protect it from rain and/or yearly re-plastering
Three Rivers has some beautiful old adobes.
There are also many other varieties of buildings friendly
to the environment here, and interested residents
may currently register for an upcoming tour to visit
five homes as part of the third annual Three Rivers
The first home is new
construction. The dwelling is small and efficient
with well insulated walls, ceilings, and windows.
The heated floor is plumbed for future conversion
to solar-heated water.
Solar panels are also planned to heat
household water. Built on acreage with an incredible
view of the mountains and sky, the owner, Bill Becker,
has set aside a prime spot for his telescope, as well
as a spot for his highly efficient solar cooker.
The second home is a
straw-bale house that was on the tour two years ago
when still under construction. At that stage, it was
roofed but unfinished, so that tour participants could
see the details of construction, such as the recycled
jeans used for attic insulation.
Besides the thick insulating walls, a
large number of green ideas were incorporated wherever
possible, from passive solar components to light tubes.
This year, tour guests will get to see how the house
works as a finished dwelling for owners Hilary Dustin
and Kay Woods.
In the Cherokee Oaks area, Tom
and Lisa McGinnis will show their owner-built
insulated concrete form home. It uses exterior solar
panels to heat the floor and for other purposes, as
well as many other energy-saving ideas.
Rick Badgley and Martha Widmann’s
beautiful adobe home is nestled in a shady draw. The
house is actually two buildings, the older original
one and a second structure Rick added as a master
bedroom and bath. This one uses a different method
of adobe construction, and Rick will show forms and
explain how it is done.
A short distance away, Rick built a studio
for Martha, who is a painter and graphic designer.
Rick is a skilled craftsman in the construction of
fine furniture and cabinets. He built his shop into
the hillside above, where the earth insulates it from
weather. The domed roof is sod, and here again, Rick
will explain construction methods.
The fifth house is the
family home of Barbara Lahmann, known for her lavender
gardens. Her grandfather, Jim Livingston, finished
the original adobe structure in 1938 using a guide
put out by the Department of Agriculture.
The walls of the home are 18 inches thick.
An eight-foot-deep porch fronts the 60-foot south
face of the house. The front door is hand-hewn redwood,
as are the four-by-four beams and window frames. Windows
and doors allow for cross breezes, and movable wood
shutters cover the windows.
The house was supplied with gravity flow
water until 1999, and a well pump now pumps water
into a rock-walled, covered reservoir. The old windmill
As it was last year, the tour is registered
as part of the ASES National Solar Tour, the largest
grassroots solar energy event in America.
The Three Rivers Environmental Weekend
began over three years ago with a small study group
on global warming. The first year, six Three Rivers
homes were toured with proceeds donated to Habitat
for Humanity’s green building fund.
Last year, tour participants carpooled
to the valley where five structures in Visalia and
one in Elderwood were toured; proceeds were donated
to Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth.
That group will also be the recipient this year.
Registration has begun for this year’s
tour, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 4. The donation is
$15 per person; $25 per couple.
To register for the tour that starts
at noon, call 561-4676. For the 1 p.m. tour, call
Pastor Edward Gunnar Spongberg passed away peacefully
on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009, at his home in Kingsburg,
surrounded by his family. Ed was 81 and had been diagnosed
with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) earlier this
After earning a B.A. degree from Los
Angeles State College and a Master of Divinity degree
from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, Ed joined
the U.S. Air Force. He served his country as a military
chaplain while stationed at many U.S. bases from Maine
to Hawaii, plus an isolated deployment to Pakistan.
In 1980, Ed retired as an Air Force major
and subsequently served as pastor at several Presbyterian
churches in the Central Valley.
After retiring from fulltime ministry
in 1993, Ed served as interim pastor at Community
Presbyterian Church in Three Rivers for 15 months.
Three Rivers became a special place for Ed and his
wife Valerie, because of its natural beauty and, especially,
due to the many wonderful people that he met here
and considered family.
Subsequent to his interim work, Ed and
Val were frequent visitors to Three Rivers when Ed
was asked to give guest sermons or to visit their
son, Marty, and his family (wife Lorée and
children Gunnar and Lauren Little), who moved to Three
Rivers in 2003.
Ed is survived by his wife of 55 years,
Valerie; four children, seven grandchildren; and one
A graveside service will be held at the
Kingsburg Cemetery (12782 E. Clarkson) at 10 a.m.
on Friday, Aug. 21, followed by a memorial service
at the Evangelical Covenant Church (1490 Lincoln St.,
Kingsburg) at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may
be sent to ALSA (ALS Association), 565 Commercial
St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111.