Kaweah Commonwealth - Three Rivers

News and Information of KAWEAH COUNTRY - Three Rivers,

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Lemon Cove and Woodlake

Visitor Information:
Three Rivers
Sequoia National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Real Estate
Property Rentals - NEW!
Local History
Travel Information
Weekly News and Features
Weekly Weather
Calendar of Events
Columns/ Opinions
Readers Poll
Newspaper Archives

Live Web Cam of
Sequoia National Park,
the High Sierra,
and Three Rivers, California
Kaweah Kam

AddThis Feed Button

In the News - Friday, August 21, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See 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 morning.
   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 someone.”

Sequoia-Kings Canyon

superintendent announces retirement

   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 the future.

  “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 research.
   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 said.
   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

Sequoia milestones


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 Village.
   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 visitor amenities.
   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,” Paul said.
   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 future.
   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 investment.

  “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 talk.”
   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

and 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 Jacobs.
   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 park operations.
   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 (ISO 14001).
   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

gather 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 25-year reunion.
   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 you. “
   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 event.
The reunion also featured a tour of the old classrooms, a slideshow presentation, and even crafts for the kids.

  “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 in town

by Brian Rothhammer

   You may have noticed some change in your change lately.
   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 2009.
   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 150th birthday.

  “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

October 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 with adobe.
   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 Environmental Weekend.
   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 still stands.
   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 561-4149.


Edward Spongberg

  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 year.
   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 great-grandchild.
   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.

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