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In the News - Friday, September 4, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


Only in the

September 4, 2009,

print edition:



Summer - Fall 2009


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

Gunfire leads park rangers

to pot-growing compound

   When Crystal Cave employees in Sequoia National Park reported hearing what sounded like automatic weapons fire on Saturday, Aug. 22, a chain of events was triggered that will likely affect resource management in all the national parks. That’s because what was subsequently discovered was horrifying and a huge threat to one of Sequoia’s most treasured natural resources.
   According to information furnished by NPS personnel, park rangers are still not certain if the gunfire was related to the illegal pot operation, but at least five more grow sites were discovered on park land. As a result of the current operation, more than 7,500 plants with an estimated street value of nearly $3 million were eradicated, but it is also estimated that three-quarters of the marijuana was already harvested.
   The search of the area that eventually turned up the pot patches began immediately upon receiving the report of gunfire. In addition, Crystal Cave was closed as a safety measure. The cave on a busy summer schedule attracts hundreds of visitors daily who had to be turned away until the cave was reopened a week later.
   A park helicopter conducted a series of flyovers focusing at first on the area where the gunshots were heard — west of the cave. Initially, the aerial search found nothing of interest.
   The area north of the cave, in the Yucca Creek drainage, was also searched and it wasn’t long before the telltale irrigation hose and clandestine campsites were observed.
   No personnel were sent into investigate the newly discovered grow sites until the area could be secured. On Thursday, Aug. 27, the first eradication teams were inserted by helicopter in the rugged terrain northeast of Crystal Cave.
   While on the ground in the grow sites, another location was also discovered that was not previously sighted. Rangers estimated that 75 percent of the five plots were already in “re-growth,” meaning that a large quantity of marijuana had already been harvested from the sites.
   According to Joel Despain, Sequoia-Kings Canyon cave specialist, the fact that the pot patches were growing adjacent to Yucca Creek, which flows through Crystal Cave, makes this illegal pot operation especially heinous.

  “Yucca Creek is the stream that actually formed Crystal Cave so the potential damage to this unique resource makes these grow sites more dangerous than all the others,” Despain said. “There was also evidence that the weaponry at the site was very sophisticated.”
   Adrienne Freeman, Sequoia-Kings Canyon public affairs officer, said that the mobilization of a park team to clean up and restore these grow sites is already being planned. Despain said that unlike the work on other sites that has to wait until the project is feasible, the restoration at these sites must be completed before seasonal rains wash down tons of pollution that could harm the delicate resources and ecosystem of Crystal Cave.

  “The closure of Crystal Cave ruined lots of vacations for visitors but even more serious is the threat to park resources,” said Adrienne. “Everyone should be outraged at the damage these sites are doing to public lands.”
   No arrests were made as a result of these raids but the investigation is ongoing.

Forty years later

it’s still Ten Years After

   Two weeks ago, Ten Years After, the iconic British rockers, took time out from their Heroes of Woodstock Tour long enough to play Orange Blossom Junction. On Tuesday night, Sept. 8, Johnny Winter, the legendary Texas bluesman and another Woodstock veteran, returns to the Junction to the delight of the venue’s growing legion of fans.
   In the beginning, when Doug and Luci Long purchased the longstanding eatery and music venue (on Highway 198 near Spruce Road) in 2004, they will admit there was uncertainty how their bold venture would work. But during the past five years, Orange Blossom Junction has featured some of the finest guitar players on the planet while featuringing a menu that rivals the best California cuisine served anywhere.
   The music is a passion of Doug’s as he is an accomplished guitar player in his own right. The passion for the restaurant’s outstanding food is mostly Luci’s doing — she is related to the chef, who obviously is the foundation of any great eatery.
   But at this junction in history — August marking the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair — it’s about celebrating the music. The Woodstock festival of August 15 to 17, 1969, in Bethel, N.Y., was a gathering of tribes that changed the world and forever branded a generation with peace, love, and rock-and-roll.
   In that eventful weekend there was no more iconic symbol of the musical menagerie on display than Ten Years After. Who could ever forget the grimacing facials of guitarist Alvin Lee as he exhorted every reverberating lick from his peace-sign emblazoned axe?
   That image of Ten Years After performing “I’m Going Home” was immortalized in the award-winning documentary Woodstock released in 1970. Alvin Lee left the band in 1975 to pursue a solo career; each of the band’s other members, including Leo Lyons (founder and bass), Ric Lee (drums), and Chick Churchill (keyboards), all continued to perform with one outfit or another.
   Fans of the original Ten Years After hounded the members for an encore. A couple of decades later, Leo asked Alvin if he would be willing to reunite for a tour.
   Alvin opted not to go but the momentum for a revival was already in high gear. The other two original members were willing so Joe Gooch, a young guitar-playing British phenomenon, stepped in and since 2002 has Ten Years After riding a new wave of popularity.
   But these minstrels are no over-the-hill revival rock band. They play with all the frenetic energy of the band’s classic blues rock but now, in the words of one music critic, “…the sound is perhaps more precisely Ten Years After.”
   Joe Gooch capably fills those monstrous roles of Alvin Lee, both on guitar and vocally, and lends his own energy to new material on the latest CD aptly entitled Evolution. The classic albums of 1968 through 1975 have all been remixed and digitized by Ric and are also available from these seemingly timeless rockers.
   At the Junction’s recent show, the audience was treated to a two-hour set of Ten Years After, both then and now. Leo, the group’s legendary bass player, still drives a tight sound that evokes many memories of the Woodstock generation.

  “What was incredible about playing Woodstock is that 500,000 people all came together and there was no violence, only peace and harmony, and a lot of rain and mud,” Leo recalled. “What happened there never happened before or since that one incredible weekend.”
   Joe Gooch commented how much he and the guys really appreciate playing the Junction.

  “On the Woodstock Tour we play maybe 40 minutes then we’re hustled off to the next date and place,” Joe said. “Playing out here in the country is very relaxing and we can really relate to our audience and let it all go.”
   At Orange Blossom Junction, come for the food — it’s delectable — but stay for the music — it’s unforgettable!
   See the upcoming concert schedule and menu at: www.orangeblossomjunction.com.

Upgrading the Crystal Cave experience:

Public input is necessary

   Sequoia National Park planners conducted a tour and the first of several planned informational meetings this week that will be held to gather public input prior to a proposed rehabilitation and restoration of Crystal Cave. NPS staff told a gathering of about 50 at the cave on Tuesday, Sept. 1, that the infrastructure at one of the Sequoia’s premier attractions is aging and in urgent need of some upgrades.
   After its discovery by two Park Service employees in 1918, development of the cave for public use was delayed for two decades. It was opened to the public in 1940 after an appropriations bill was passed that included provisions for the cave, sponsored by then-Congressman Albert E. Carter of Three Rivers.
   Since its opening, thousands of visitors have toured and enjoyed the cool underground living laboratory. It has been operated by the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA) since the 1980s and is a substantial portion of that nonprofit group’s revenue, grossing $500,000 annually.
   Facilities like the cave’s entrance, lighting, access trail, gift shop, parking, restrooms, picnic area, and parking lot are among the cave’s components that could undergo changes.

  “At the current time we are in the scoping phase to try to get some idea as to what the public would like to see as priorities in the project,” said Nancy Hendricks, NPS environmental protection specialist, who facilitated the cave tour and meeting.
   Comments on the scoping phase are due by Friday, Sept. 25. Log onto http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki for project details.


Ja Nene Natural Body Products

reorganizes and expands

by Janene Lasswell

   I have a new store opening Tuesday, Sept. 15, in San Luis Obispo at 950 Chorro Street, across from the mission. The new SLO store will be managed by my niece, Ashlee Newman.
   I’m going to work at the new store a couple of times a month, but most of the time, I will be in Three Rivers. On Sunday, Aug. 31, I moved my Three Rivers business from the Sierra Drive store to the workshop at our home, where I will be selling by appointment.
   I will still honor all gift certificates, locals-only discounts, and coupons. People are also welcome to order from my website and designate the shipping as “will call” and come pick it up or I can possibly deliver.
   Everyone is welcome to stop by and hang out in the shop. Just call (559) 561-0900 or 561-4021 first to make sure I'm there. It's interesting to see how these products are made.
   So if anyone tells you it’s a shame my store is closing, tell them I’m still here, and now at the Central Coast as well. In fact, I hope to be making about 10 times as much product starting the first of September.
   This necessary change is due to our town’s small size. I have had an amazing response to my natural products though.
   To give you an idea how amazing: if I got the same response in Fresno, I would be grossing $150,000 a month. Of course, this isn't Fresno and thank God for that, right?
   Still, I need to earn a living and think I'm somewhat ready to move to a little bigger venue. Wish me luck!
   Janene Lasswell’s products may be viewed and purchased at www.anointyourself.com.

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
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