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
Local History
Travel Information
Weekly News and Features
Weekly Weather
Calendar of Events
Property Rentals
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 27, 2010


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

Two fires, one cause, same day

  Two turkey vultures that landed on SCE transmission lines sparked two wildfires near Three Rivers on Thursday, Aug. 12. The two separate wildland fires burned about two acres each and didn’t damage any structures. They did, however, cause some anxious moments for dozens of Alta Acres residents who reported seeing smoke, then flames, and subsequently watched a series of drops from an aircraft that buzzed the rooftops of several homes.
   The first blaze was started below Three Rivers in hilly terrain adjacent to the west end of Lake Kaweah. A vulture reportedly landed on a transmission wire and spread its wings, which caused a spark to arc from the line into the unsuspecting critter that was just looking for a convenient perch.
   What happened next was a loud buzzing followed by a popping sound as the bird burst into flame and dropped into the tinder-dry grass below. If it happens to be windy at that precise moment, these accidental fires can explode into a disastrous wildfire.

  “Fortunately, the winds were calm so we were able to get quick containment on both these fires,” said Larry Harris, Cal Fire battalion chief, who was at the scene of Alta Acres fire.
   The first fire at Lake Kaweah started at about 3:15 p.m.; the second blaze above Alta Acres was reported at 5:48 p.m.
   In both fires, the flashpoint was on the top of a knoll so it was difficult for the fire to burn downslope,” Chief Harris said. “As is standard procedure in these wildland fires, we will have several crews out here the rest of the night dousing hot spots and looking for embers.”
   At least a half-dozen units responded to the Alta Acres incident. Aerial units also assisted in battling the blaze (see page 7).

  “This time we were fortunate and dodged a bullet,” said one Cal Fire firefighter. “Unfortunately, the birds weren’t so lucky.”

  Only in the August 20 print edition, reader-submitted photos of the dramatic aerial attack during the Three Rivers wildland fire in the hills above the Alta Acres subdivision.

End of an era for

Three Rivers Ambulance

  For the first time in more than a half-century, no volunteers in Three Rivers are scrambling to roll to a medical emergency. The 54-year run of the Three Rivers Ambulance officially came to an end Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 8 a.m.
   According to Sandy Owen, longtime volunteer and board member, the changeover should have occurred sooner but the ambulance companies under contract to Tulare County held out as long as it was politically feasible. Since Tuesday, three ambulance companies have been rotating equipment in and out of the Lemon Cove Fire Station after a lease arrangement was completed with the Tulare County Fire Department.
   The new coverage is shared between American Medical Response, Exeter District Ambulance, and American Ambulance. The response times to most of Three Rivers must average 20 minutes or less, depending on location.
   Company vehicles were timed recently with run times from Lemon Cove of 11 minutes to Village Market and 19 minutes to the Sequoia National Park entrance. According to Sandy, the coverage should be consistently better than what the local volunteers could provide in the recent past.

  “With the volunteers, we just couldn’t provide 24/7 coverage,” Sandy said. “It was a difficult decision to end the local service, but it was a move we had to make.”
   Sandy said the decision was complicated by the fact that the Three Rivers Ambulance recently had a couple of really dedicated new recruits. But these people have lives too, Sandy said, and there were times when Three Rivers went out of service altogether or they had four or five calls in succession.

  “We just got to a point that we became too busy and that’s when a response time could mean life or death for a Three Rivers patient,” Sandy said.
   Sandy said the service should be markedly improved because if one ambulance is called to Three Rivers another must be rotated into the Lemon Cove station. But there will be a learning curve for all the new drivers to negotiate Three Rivers.
   Some of the Three Rivers addresses, Sandy said, are still not in the 911 system correctly. And with many private drives housing multiple residences it’s going to initially be a challenge during some calls to find the right address.

  “Some house numbers are visible in the day but not at night and others simply do not have any visible name or address,” Sandy said. “Take a look at your own property. Is your address and driveway readily accessible after dark?”
   The highly visible blue reflective signs that are recommended for every property are still available from the Three Rivers Volunteer Fire Department.
   The life you save, Sandy says, might be your own.
   The plan is to sell the former Three Rivers Ambulance for about $20,000. With only 58,000 miles, it’s still got plenty of calls left in its lifetime, Sandy said.
   In the event the ambulance is sold, the money could be used for local scholarships or to support school programs. The allocation of funds, however, must be approved by the state Attorney General.

Three Rivers Ambulance

Those who donated their time and expertise to administer

care to Three Rivers residents and visitors:

Frank Ainley III
Mike Condon
Sylvia Diaz
John Hanggi
Steve Mayfield
Robert Meeker

Kent Owen
Sandy Owen
Dave Vasquez
Dennis Villavicencio


Mary Staberg, President
Ray Murry, Vice President
Sandy Owen, Treasurer
Sylvia Diaz, Secretary
Directors: Mike Condon, Rich Crain, Rusty Crain, John Hanggi,

Ginny Stone, Dave Vasquez, Dennis Villavicencio

Sheep Fire chars 1,800 acres

Lightning-caused fire more than

doubles in size in three days

  A blaze started by a lightning strike on or about July 16 above Cedar Grove has now grown to more than 1,800 acres and there are no immediate plans to extinguish the spreading fire. That’s because there are currently no threats to life or property so Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks firefighters are managing the blaze much as they would a prescribed fire.
   The fire is located in the southern cliffs above Cedar Grove, one half-mile north of Sentinel Ridge. Flames are clearly visible in Cedar Grove as the fire spreads west and backs down to the Cedar Grove valley floor.
   Earlier this week, firefighters began operations to protect a water tank and helicopter base near Cedar Grove by cutting line around the areas. Small areas have been torched to prevent the burning of park infrastructure and electrical boxes.
   A holding line has been established along the ridge to Lookout Peak in an effort to mitigate smoky conditions in the Kings River drainage. Visitors may expect the heaviest concentration of smoke settling in the valley in the late evening and early morning hours.
   There is no recorded fire history in the current perimeter of the Sheep Fire, according to park sources. Recent fires to the east should inhibit the spread of fire in that direction.
   Deb Schweizer, the parks’ fire education specialist, said that along the western perimeter the fire is now spreading onto Giant Sequoia National Monument lands. That means the blaze will now be managed by a multi-agency incident command.
   Most of the parks’ 60 firefighting personnel are currently assigned to the fire as are two U.S. Forest Service hotshot crews, Deb reported.
   There have been no reports of smoke from the Sheep Fire in the Kaweah canyon but a blaze that was sparked Tuesday on Stokes Mountain near Orosi did cause some generally smoky conditions in the foothills of eastern Tulare County.

In brief...

Federal, state, local updates

Youth Commission vacancy
   A District One resident (includes Three Rivers) is being sought to fill a vacancy on the Tulare County Youth Commission. The Youth Commission is an 11-member advisory panel of youth and education experts that reviews and administers grant proposals and makes recommendations to the county Board of Supervisors regarding funding.
   Applications may be obtained from the Board of Supervisors office, located at the County Administration Building, 2800 W. Burrel, Visalia; by calling 636-5000; or online at www.stepuptc.com (click on “Youth Commission”).

Breathalyzer program
comes to Tulare County

   Beginning last month, people convicted of a DUI in Tulare County will be required by law to install an ignition-interlock device. This is a pilot program that focuses on counties with high numbers of DUI conviction rates.
   The device is installed to a motor vehicle’s dashboard where, before the engine can be started, the driver first must exhale into it. If the resultant breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the programmed blood alcohol concentration the IID prevents the engine from being started.
   The program is also in effect in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Alameda counties.

Comments wanted on
Giant Sequoia plan

   The Giant Sequoia National Monument draft environmental impact statement and draft management plan are available for public comment. The draft EIS describes six alternatives, one of which will be used to manage the national monument.
   The U.S Forest Service, which oversees the monument, will use the final document to manage resources within the boundaries of the monument, which includes 33 giant sequoia groves.
   Three-hour public workshops have been scheduled in six locations during September and October: Porterville, Bakersfield, Clovis, San Francisco, Valencia, and Pasadena.
   To see a copy of the document, review deadlines, and obtain the address where to submit comments, go online to


County of Tulare
furlough days

   Several departments within the County of Tulare have implemented furlough days, from Assesor to Library to Elections and more. Before making the trip to Visalia to attend to county business, be sure to call the department you will be visiting to ensure they are open.

New national park proposed
   California may be home to one more national park if Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) recently introduced bill is passed. Senate Bill 3744 would establish Pinnacles National Park, which currently holds the status as a national monument. It is located west of Hwy. 101 in San Benito County.

Operation Trident targets large-scale pot growers
   Operation Trident is a large-scale marijuana eradication effort in Tulare, Fresno, and Madera counties and consists of about 450 personnel from 21 local, state, and federal agencies. In addition to seizure of plants, dismantling grow locations, confiscating weapons, cash, and other property, the coalition has also initiated investigations into drug-trafficking organizations controlling these operations.
   Pot-harvesting season is here and typically continues through October or until the first freeze. Now is the time when growers become especially protective and violent, so use caution when hiking, hunting, or otherwise recreating in remote areas between 3,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation.

Southern Sequoia backpacking trip:

South Fork to Mineral King

by Brian Newton

  Garfield Grove is without a doubt one of the most spectacular and beautiful of all the giant sequoia groves. The best way to experience it is to start at the end of South Fork Drive, (3,600 feet elevation), 13 miles from Highway 198 in Three Rivers.
   It is steeper than most trails in the park so the climb requires one to move slowly and in so doing there is time to gaze at and admire the trees. In contrast, hiking the opposite direction, downhill from Hockett Meadow, hikers might blow on by the majesty of it all.
   Snowslide Canyon is 3.6 miles from the trailhead but has an inviting campsite nearby for unloading a heavy backpack. A half-mile before the campsite on the right side is a sequoia I call the Saturn 5 tree. It has no branches but appears to keep its massive girth for seven to 10 stories high.
   It reminds me of the Saturn 5 rockets that launched so many space missions. Another similarly huge tree fell along the steep slope from the trail down to the campground. Saturn 6.
   The second day had my hiking partner Roy Kendall and I hiking through miles of a breathtaking forest of gargantuan specimens. The trail’s steepness ends near 8,200 feet but the eastern edge of Garfield Grove is near 7,750 feet, over three miles from the first appearance of the giants. There stands Saturn 7, a dead but standing tree very much like Saturn 5 in shape and size.
   There are numerous comfortable second-night campsites at the South Fork of the Kaweah River. The extra deep snowpack this winter had resulted in incredible snowmelt runoff. I counted 18 full water courses between Garfield Creek and the Kaweah River, a distance of only three miles. I imagine few of these creeks would have water after a normal winter snowfall.
   The Kaweah River at the trail junction was 40 feet wide and fast. You had better know your crossing abilities here because less than 100 yards downstream is a deadly waterfall.
   We crossed in the morning when the water was only 10 to 15 inches deep, but still swift and cold. We wore socks under our sandals and think that kept the shock of ice water at bay a bit.
   The third day we walked through rolling hills and snowdrifts mounded across the trail every few hundred yards and one to four feet high. The forest before Sand Meadow was almost totally denuded; I’m guessing the cause is a pine bark beetle infestation.
   We decided to pass on camping at Hockett Meadow and go instead to Evelyn Lake, primarily based on Sarah Elliott’s backpack trip report in The Kaweah Commonwealth [“Hockett Meadows: Land of Many Meadows,” Nov. 6, 2009; www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/hockettmeadows.htm].
   From Hockett the trail drops 200 feet to Whitman Creek then gains 600 feet before descending again, this time 300 feet. Evelyn Lake is gorgeous and suffice it to say the fishing was prolific and rewarding.
On the fourth day we lost the trail to Cahoon Rock where a switchback was buried by snow. We climbed cross country and reached a false summit before making it to our destination. There used to be a fire lookout here and its debris is scattered about, from nails to steel pads.  The many tree stumps on this summit are a testimony to previous construction.
   I brought a small notebook in an empty peanut butter jar as a register and placed it in a round cement hole that it now shares with the remnant of an electric cable.
   Not having seen another person for four days we received quite a surprise when a fellow approached and said, “Hello, Roy and Brian.”    It was Dave Telfer from Exeter who had done business with Roy. His hiking partner, Kelly Dudley from Visalia, teaches P.E. at Castle Rock Elementary in Woodlake where I also previously taught. They pointed out the trail for us, which facilitated a quick and easy descent.
   En route back to Hockett Meadow for the night a brief thunderstorm pelted us with hail pellets.
   The 11-mile walk out to Mineral King the next day wasn’t too strenuous due to lighter packs but there were numerous water crossings during this early July trip. All were only a short distance across but some were more challenging because of the steep drop.
   Thanks to the note Kelly left on the Hockett Meadows Ranger Station message board, we were forewarned that there were 34 downed trees in the trail we had to negotiate under, around, or over.    The trail maintenance crew was scheduled to arrive July 15 so hopefully they’ll clear the trail all the way back to where we started.
   After seven hours I arrived at the Cold Spring Campground in Mineral King and used the pay phone to ask my wife to come pick us up. The collect call would have been $17.85 but thankfully the only two coins in my pack were quarters so I was able to make the call for 50 cents instead.
   To begin this backpack in Mineral King and finish at the South Fork Campground below Garfield Grove can be reasonably completed in three days but the opposite slow, scenic, uphill route is divine.
  Brian Newton has lived in Visalia for 30 years. He retired in June 2008 after 32 years as an elementary school teacher, 28 of which were in the Woodlake Elementary School District. He is an outdoor enthusiast and activist. He is a member of the Tulare County Audubon Society, Sierra Club-Kern/Kaweah Chapter, and serves on the board of Sequoia Riverlands Trust. He previously wrote a series in the Commonwealth about a canoe trip down the St. John’s River.


What makes an artist an artist?

by Jana Botkin

  In college, an art professor said to me, “Just because you can draw doesn’t make you an artist.” I was devastated, insulted, dismayed, shocked, and any other adjective you can think of for the situation — how dare he say that to me!
   Now that I have the advantage of life experience and wisdom, I know he was right, even if it was an insensitive and snotty remark. His point was that there is more to making art than simply drawing.
   Master of Fine Art, or MFA, is the highest degree possible in art. My college professors may have had their MFAs but mostly they walked around the room while taking a break from their own work and offered criticism and snide remarks (”Just because you can draw. . .” or “You need to work on composition”) without ever bothering to actually teach, to demonstrate, or share information.
   I have been teaching people how to draw for 16 years without an MFA. It is a skill, and in teaching the skill, many other things about art can be shared. We talk about different styles, ways to set up a drawing from the beginning, ways of arranging the elements in a drawing, and lots of technique. First I show how, then I explain why.
   Through the years, only two students that I can think of have pursued art as a career. Everyone who has stayed long enough to learn to draw has learned to draw, and they each have drawings they can proudly show off to prove that they know how to draw. Even without going into art full-time, learning to draw has given each one confidence.
   Recently I saw three former drawing students. Louis is in the Navy, Stephanie is thinking about occupational therapy, and Mark is a cowboy. Drawing lessons were not a waste of time for any one of these wonderful young folks — they learned to draw, learned to communicate with people of all ages (that is the way my classes are arranged), explored a type of art in a comfortable environment, got to display their work in a show or two, developed a bit more confidence, and made new friends.
   I enjoyed every moment spent with each of these people and love seeing how they are turning into adults. We have an easy friendship that transcends age and has lasted through time and changes.
   They can draw; are they artists? And I am an artist in addition to being a teacher and being able to draw, so there, you Snotty Professor!
   Jana Botkin of Three Rivers is a professional artist who owns Cabinart in Three Rivers. She creates oil paintings, pencil drawings, and murals of local landmarks and viewscapes. Her current project is creating the most recent mural to grace the city of Exeter.


My dog days this summer

by Landon Spencer

  I’ve always had a hard time swallowing the idea that “home is where the heart is.” My heart has had no qualms about taking me around the world — from the deserts of Morocco to the eclectic pulse of Montreal’s plateau — and has never seemed inclined to take root in any one place.
   My rather restless aorta proved to be a particular nuisance when I found myself finally winding down from five years of perpetual travel. I decided that I was ready to go home.
   Trouble was, after a half-decade of changing cities every two months the way that some people change the filter in their Brita, the closest thing I had to a home was the icon of that name on my Facebook page. Though I hadn’t lived there in over 15 years, it was   Three Rivers that inspired me to perform my ultimate act of unpacking.
   I did everything one does to settle down, but found that all the furniture and phone bills in the world couldn’t convince me that I live here. I needed further proof. So I got a dog.
   Somewhere along the line a formula had taken shape in my brain: Dog = Stability. It was not as profound, perhaps, as Einstein’s E=mc2, but it seemed relevant and logical enough.
   Dogs had always been big players in the period of my life that was most stable, growing up on Cherokee Oaks: the Samoyed under the kitchen table, ready to snap up scraps secretly tossed to her on nights when my mother had the nerve to serve something as wholly unpalatable as liver and onions; the Shetland sheepdog forever engaged in a heated round of tug-of-war with my little sister who insisted, in order to be perfectly fair, on holding her end of the sock in her teeth rather than her hands; the dignified Papillon contentedly curled on the lap of my father who adamantly maintained that he “didn’t really care for the dogs at all.”
   My French boyfriend, still an avid globe-trotter ever afraid of getting stuck in one place, expressed his mild horror: “Un chien! But you’ll be trapped!”
   Yes, indeed. That is precisely the idea.
   Having a dog means that I can’t whisk myself away on a moment’s notice to Egypt for a quick trot round the pyramids or to Mexico for a culinary tour of Oaxaca. A dog needs to be taken care of. A dog needs exercise, food, and affection.
   My daily dog walks take me into intimate contact with my new neighborhood on South Fork, highlighting not just the houses and trees but every rabbit, lizard, and smear of roadkill left-over. When the neighbor up the road slaughters a cow for meat, he brings over a hoof because “perhaps your dog would like a little chew...”
   The work involved in owning a dog can be tiresome, but it is exactly the fatigue I’ve been craving. When my dog reminds me, with melted chocolate eyes set into a head tilted at just the right degree for maximum cuteness, that it is after five and therefore time for dinner, I am only too happy to drop what I’ve been doing and oblige the charming beast.
   While the heart can lead you on a wild goose-chase of impermanence, a dog will always insist you stay put and tend to the food bowl. And so, if I may humbly proffer an alternative phrase: “Home is where your dog is,” and I’m home at last.
   Landon Spencer was raised in Three Rivers.


Leslie Avery
1917 ~ 2010

   Leslie Hart Avery died in the early morning of Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010, in Berkeley. He was 93.
   Leslie was the son of Elizabeth Rebecca Hart and Leslie Charles Avery. It was classical music listened to on a phonograph that determined the course of his life, as well as his mother’s family history.
   Leslie attended the University of California at Berkeley where he majored in music and met his wife-to-be, Constance Iola Hannah.
He worked as a classical music broadcaster at radio station KRE in Berkeley, where his minor in electrical engineering combined well with his vocal training and immense knowledge of music. He later became a broadcast engineer for public television station KQED in San Francisco.
   But Leslie grew up as a Visalia farm boy and spent his summers in Mineral King, where the Hart family had been setting up camp along the river since 1898. He would ride horseback to Mineral King during a time when the water troughs along the road were essential.
   He also told a story later of how the family automobile would have to back up the “old road” in order to have a gear low enough to make the grade.
   His maternal grandparents, Edwin and Martha Hart, built a cabin about 1920 and in the ensuing years other Hart family members purchased cabins in the West Mineral King area, totalling about six in all.
   In 1956, Leslie’s mother, Elizabeth, purchased a cabin for her family, which is still used today by their descendants.
   Leslie was also an accomplished photographer. He has photographs of Mineral King on display at Silver City and also photographed collectible bottles for several books he and Constance coauthored with friend Al Cembura.
   He and Connie also spent much time researching the history of Mineral King and, as a result, uncovered many key documents and maps, some of which are on display at the Mineral King Ranger Station.
   Leslie is survived by his wife, Constance, and his children, Christopher James Avery and Carolyn Ruth Avery Petersen; his grandchildren, great-granchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.
   Remembrances in memory of Leslie Hart Avery may be sent to the Mineral King District Association, P.O. Box 1004, Three Rivers, CA 93271.

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 2003-2010 The Kaweah Commonwealth