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In the News - Friday, September 12, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

Helicopter assists with
park medical emergencies

   Two medical emergencies that occurred in Sequoia National Park during the past week called for the patients to be airlifted to area hospitals for treatment. One patient appeared to be suffering some ill-effects associated with altitude while another received critical care after a motorcycle accident.
   The first incident occurred Thursday, Sept. 4, when a hiker at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp reported difficulty breathing. Park personnel decided to call for a helicopter and the unidentified man was transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia.
   On Tuesday, Sept. 9, an unidentified motorcyclist lost control on the Generals Highway near Potwisha. Park dispatch received the emergency call shortly before 4 p.m. It was determined at the scene that the injured cyclist had sustained trauma to the head and back.
   The male victim was transported via helicopter to Regional Medical Center in Fresno where he remains in critical condition.  The Generals Highway was closed briefly after the accident until the scene was cleared.
   The cause of death is pending in the fatality of 41-year-old Victor Puentes of Pomona who had been swimming on Tuesday, Aug. 26, near Road’s End in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. The Fresno County Coroner is expected to have a ruling in the case next week.

Vandals strike McKee ranch

   Last month, when Earl and Gaynor McKee returned from an extended tour with the High Sierra Jazz Band, they discovered that their water well had been vandalized. The well is located on a knoll across Old Three Rivers Drive from the couple’s home, where Earl has lived his entire life.
   The well had been pried open at the welded well-casing lid. Rocks and dirt were intentionally shoved into the system, causing its total failure. Earl contacted the original well digger, who advised him to cover it up. The following day, when McKee returned to the well, he discovered even more rocks and dirt piled into the pipeline, completely filling the width of the pipe some 40 feet below.
   A cable that had been coiled on the ground was lying across the road and had been used to force the rocks down the line. There were no fresh tire tracks on the gated access road, so the vandal(s) apparently traveled on foot to reach the well site.

  “The well is very deep,” said Earl. “I will have to hire a rig to come in to repair the damage at the cost of several thousand dollars at least.”
   Earl is perplexed as to why anyone would engage in such a cruel act. He had recently graded the road on the back side of his property to access the family swimming hole. He said that for years he and his family had crossed the neighboring property to get to the swimming hole.
   Earl, 77, was born in the home where today he continues to reside. He is a lifelong cattle rancher, a founding member of the High Sierra Jazz Band and, more recently, a horse breeder.

  “My parents homesteaded in this area in the early 1900s and bought these 20 acres in 1921,” Earl reminisced. “It was time I finally put a road in while I could do it myself. Gaynor and I wanted to be able to enjoy the hill and the river with our family.”
   Earl and Gaynor’s children swam in the South Fork swimming hole. Now they share it with their grandchildren.

  “Only recently have I begun locking the door to our house,” Earl said. “It’s hard for me to believe that things like this can happen in our community. It just breaks my heart.”
   There have been several incidents of vandalism reported this summer in the Old Three Rivers area and in Cherokee Oaks. Anyone with information about these crimes should contact the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department at 733-6211.

WHS kicks off 95th year

   Since Woodlake Union High School opened its doors in 1914, it has earned a reputation for excellence among its peers and is known far beyond its district boundaries when it comes to the success of its students. A case in point was the national recognition the district received when in 2002 the College Board awarded $5,000 and an Inspiration Award to WHS, which was chosen from among all the nation’s schools.
   But now in these uncertain economic times, the local high school might just become a trendsetter in another important category. While most districts struggle and are making huge cuts, Woodlake is expanding its facilities and staff and is fiscally sound.
   That enviable situation is due in large part to Measure C, which was passed last November, but the $4.4 million bond is just part of the good news. According to Woodlake’s top administrators, now more than ever, the district can focus on an ambitious instructional action plan that can translate to even greater student success.
   Now beginning her second year as principal at Woodlake High, Nicole Glentzer said teachers and staff at the high school can really focus on areas that need improvement. To some a daunting task in a school with so many (more than 50 percent) who speak English as a second language; to Glentzer another challenge that she says she intends to meet head on.

  “Think about what accountability means in terms of the responsibility that we have as administrators and as teachers,” Glentzer said. “It can really be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. It’s about the de-privatization of what’s going on in the classroom.”
   Mrs. Glentzer said that’s the key to understanding what’s going on at WHS and at other public schools that are making headway against seemingly insurmountable odds to improve test scores.

  “What we’re trying to do here is talk to each other about what we want to achieve,” Glentzer said.
   To facilitate that critical communication, Glentzer said, Woodlake High is continuing its early release on Mondays at 1:15 p.m. so teachers and staff can meet to exchange ideas and get on the same page as to what each department needs to accomplish. For the initial sessions, all the teachers meet together; subsequent sessions will be smaller groups by department or subject areas.
   Glentzer refers to these study groups as professional learning   communities. At Woodlake, she said, it’s not just the principal telling teachers what they need to accomplish.

  “It’s a team effort and we’re getting plenty of support from the district,” Glentzer said. “Now that we’ve identified the areas for improvement, we need to close the gap between the English learners and non-English learners.”
   The immediate goal in all Woodlake’s schools is to raise the   proficiency in all the subjects, especially English and Math. For the high achievers, Glentzer said, the administration is working to strengthen the six Advanced Placement courses that are offered.
   One of the problems with the AP program at small schools like Woodlake is that the instructors see the same core students in every class so it makes scheduling a nightmare. To augment the AP schedule, juniors or seniors may enroll in College of the Sequoias general education evening classes offered on the WHS campus.
   These COS courses, which offer high school and college credit, give students their first taste of college-level curriculum. That gives Woodlake’s students an advantage in the eyes of some college recruiters who want to see how a prospective student might perform in college.

  “There are so many good things here at Woodlake,” Glentzer said. “We have such great talent here that it’s humbling to be in a leadership position.”
   But, more importantly, Glentzer said, is that most students really want to succeed, and given some direction and the opportunity, that’s just what they do.


Four lakes in a day

by Sarah Elliott

   It’s been a long, hot, busy summer, but one that included no backpacking trips and just a single dayhike; 3.5 miles to Eagle Lake out of Mineral King.
   That is so unlike us. So as August rolled to a close, we vowed to make a change.
   Late-season hiking is spectacular, with mostly-sunny skies, easy water crossings, no bugs, and less crowded trails (for the most part).
   A key motivator for planning a couple of daylong hikes is that on September 21 we have a challenging hike planned. It became necessary for us to spend some days at altitude while putting a bit of mileage under our belts to ensure we will obtain our goal.
   That is why at 8 a.m. on the Saturday of the Labor Day holiday weekend, John and I were walking along the Mineral King Road in Sequoia National Park toward the Sawtooth trailhead. And we weren’t the only ones preparing for a day on the trail.
   The ranger station could have easily been mistaken for a Starbuck’s drive-thru. There were cars lined up along the road and around the bend with more arriving. It was actually the weekend warriors racing inside to drop off their itineraries and obtain backcountry permits, taking advantage of the three-day weekend.
   Less than a mile up the road, we were navigating our way in and around cars, backpacks, hikers, and gear strewn throughout the Sawtooth parking lot. It looked like an explosion at REI. There were people in various stages of packing and repacking, changing clothes, eating, flossing, searching for socks, posing for photos, filling their rental bear canisters, and racing back to their car to silence an errant car alarm.
   It was mayhem, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be on the trail with dozens of other hikers. Ah, but we underestimate ourselves and our ability to get off the beaten path.
   We started up the trail that leads from an elevation of 7,800 feet to a variety of destinations: Timber Gap, Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Peak and Pass, Glacier Pass, and Crystal Lake. And it was Crystal Lake that would be our first stop.
   The first mile of the trail to Groundhog Flat has been written about in this series many times. Contrary to our earlier prediction, on this section of trail that works its way up the lower flank of Empire Mountain, we passed just one dayhiker, although we could count about 15 more backpackers below us working their way determinedly up the switchbacks.
   We reached Groundhog Flat and hopped across Monarch Creek to begin ascending the long switchbacks that work their way around the ridge toward Monarch Lake. Now and then along this portion of trail there are panoramic views through the forest of the Mineral King valley and peeks at the trail below where the huffing-and-puffing backpackers now looked like ants marching toward their next picnic.
   In about three miles and 2,200 feet of elevation gain, the Crystal Lake trail veers off from the well-traveled trail to lower Monarch Lake and Sawtooth Pass and enters the remote Chihuahua Bowl. The trail works its way up a rocky slope toward an obvious saddle.
   Along the way are the old Chihuahua Mine and a few prospect diggings that divert the attention from the trail, which is now steeper than the gradually-ascending Monarch Lakes trail. These are visible remnants of the Mineral King area’s mining legacy.
   In the 1870s, many prospected the area, dreaming of riches that were never realized. Ironically, it was us and the dozens behind us who were reaping the real riches of Mineral King: the outdoor opportunities and cultural history now preserved forever within Sequoia National Park.
   Upon reaching the ridgetop, it’s all downhill, but anyone who’s hiked out of Mineral King knows that going down never lasts long.   We enjoyed the descent while it lasted, passing the cutoff to Cobalt Lakes, which are in view on the other side of the grassy gully below.
   When not enjoying the views of the Cobalt Lakes, there is no other place to look but up, where the trail leads. And as we travel down, our destination of the Crystal Lake dam becomes higher and higher on the mountain.
   We made the final ascent of 300 feet on a trail scattered with the red rocks from Mineral Peak. We passed a couple of empty campsites just before reaching the lower lake’s dam. On this busy weekend, we settled in by the dam – built by the Mt. Whitney Power and Electric Company ca. 1903 – and had the lake to ourselves.
   We munched on nuts and fruit while adding another layer of clothing. The wind was swirling, as it always seems to here, and the cirrus clouds were intermittently dimming the warm rays of the sun, although there was no threat of a thunderstorm.
   The landscape is alluring here. Crystal Lake is in a deep cirque with sides so steep that there is no shoreline to the north and south, just vertical walls. Looking back across the Mineral King valley toward the White Chief area, it is a rocky rainbow of color as every mountain is a different shade of Sierran rock – red, black, gray, and white.
   To continue the next leg of this loop, we backtracked on the trail slightly to pick up an indistinct path that would take us up and over the hill – actually just an oversized talus pile – that forms the north side of Crystal Lake. This began the cross-country section of this hike.
   As we traversed its rocky slope, we eyed Mineral Peak (elevation 11,615 feet) above, the prominent red peak between Crystal and the lower Monarch Lake (elevation 10,380 feet). It was tempting to make the Class 2 scramble to the summit pyramid, but decided to save it for another day.
   We boulder-hopped our way up to the low point on the ridge, a great vantage point from which to admire Sawtooth Peak (elevation 12,343 feet). From here, it is an easy drop into the upper Monarch Lake basin (elevation 10,640 feet). To reach the opposite end of the lake, we traversed the shoreline on the Sawtooth Peak side. After relaxing next to our second dam of the day, we descended on a use trail to lower “Monarch City,” so-dubbed by us because this was the destination of most of those backpackers we had seen earlier in the day.
   A couple of young men basking in the sun on a lakeside boulder asked if going to the upper lake is worth the effort. We gave a resounding, “Yes!”
   In order to continue successfully dodging the onslaught of backpackers, we opted to return to Mineral King on the old, non-maintained Sawtooth trail, which has actually disappeared in some places. After picking up the trail on the northwest side of the lake, the route dropped us down the Monarch canyon via a series of hanging valleys and over a large rockslide along the south flank of Empire Mountain.
   We picked up the trail again at Groundhog Flat, and the last mile to the trailhead would be the only time we traveled the same trail twice that day. We met a half-dozen people on this section, which was more than we had seen all day.
   With just a little effort, there are still places where one can avoid the three-day-weekend crowds. And we returned to the Mineral King valley in time to prepare dinner for our weekend guests.

A Concert (and art)
on the Grass

   A Three Rivers musical tradition continues with the 28th annual Concert on the Grass, coming up on Saturday, Sept. 27. By design, the concert is a mix of professional performers and upcoming talent. In recent years, world-famous entertainers like flutist Tracy Harris and actor Ronnie Cox have spun out their musical magic.
   This year, the talent is some of the best ever — three astonishing vocalists—Vanessa Rodriguez, Lauren Adaska and Leah Spencer.   All three have voices that will stop you in your tracks. Vanessa is powerful and emotional, Lauren is pitch perfect and exquisite, Leah is beautifully textured and nuanced.
   On the professional side, two new chamber groups will be performing: the Tulare County Symphony Brass Quintet, led by notable trumpet master Cooper Walden; and the Cummins Quintet, a charming family of Los Angeles musicians who also have a home in Three Rivers.
   The concert takes place on the shaded lawn at the Haxton residence near the end of Dinely Drive in Three Rivers. Parking attendants will guide you from there with shuttle service to the concert venue. Music begins at 2:30 p.m., but starting at 1:30 is an art show featuring Three Rivers artists and craftspeople with Ken Elias performing Bach’s atmospheric Goldberg Variations in the background. This is the time to set up your chairs and blankets, enjoy your picnic, wander among the artists, and get yourself ready for a wonderful and free show.

Annual dinner supports TRUS

   The annual Three Rivers Union School Foundation dinner is right around the corner, and the Foundation board hopes you will be there. On Sunday, Sept. 28, you will have the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones.
   The evening includes a delicious dinner prepared by Felix Gonzalez, Flamenco-style music provided by our local Faena Brava, an opportunity to win a prize and bid in the silent auction, and more. But hurry, because the date of the event is quickly approaching, and we must know you are coming so we can prepare.
   This year, funds will be directed to the Foundation’s main project, the completion of repairs and upgrades on the upper field. This field is used almost daily year-round by the community as well as the school. Students use it for everything from recess to field day and soccer, football and baseball.
   But it is when school is not in session that the field really gets a workout. It provides the only grassy space in Three Rivers for events such as dog training, Frisbee, the annual fall carnival, and recreational sports for all ages.
   The Foundation is looking forward to finishing the renovation of the baseball field, which will be dedicated to the memory of Maile Peck (1936-2006). Maile was the town’s most loyal sports fan. She attended nearly every game at the school and especially loved men’s summer softball.
   All donations stay right here in Three Rivers and go directly to Foundation projects. Support your local school and community by calling Lee Crouch, 561-3363; Susan Lamberson, 561-7400; or the school, 561-4466; for a ticket. Donations for the auction are welcome as well. Tickets are $50 for a single plate and $75 for a double and need to be purchased by Friday, Sept. 19.
   Dinner with friends supporting such a cause is a great way to spend a fall evening.

Costco book event

to highlight 3R author

   Jay O’Connell was raised in Three Rivers and graduated Woodlake High School in 1977. Although he hasn’t resided in Three Rivers since he left for college, he remains a constant presence, having written three books on local history.
   His most recent, Train Robber’s Daughter (Raven River Press, 2008), will be the main feature of an event at the Visalia Costco this weekend.

  “We’re planning to make this event more than just an ordinary book-signing,” said a Costco representative. “In fact, it’s a bit unique to even have a book-signing at Costco.”
   Jay will be onsite from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, to discuss his book that follows the extraordinary life of Eva Evans, daughter of Chris Evans, one-half of the notorious Evans and Sontag duo who robbed trains in the San Joaquin Valley and hid out in the Sierra foothills. On display will be artifacts and photographs from the Evans and Sontag era, as well as from the melodrama that sensationalized their exploits.
   Jay, who works as a television producer in Southern California, has written several historical series for the Commonwealth, detailing the Kaweah Colony, Col. Charles Young, the CCCs, and the Mt. Whitney Power & Electric Company. In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park, the CCC series will be updated and republished.

  “Re-reading the CCC series in an election year with massive budget issues (and a government bailout of major financial institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) makes it oddly pertinent,” said Jay.
   Beyond this reprised series, Jay has offered to contribute a monthly article regarding local history. As Three Rivers moves fast-forward into the 21st century, it will be a welcome respite to rewind to a time when the pace was slower and life was simpler.
   This weekend, meet and talk with Jay in person, then watch for more of his writing in the upcoming months in the Commonwealth.


SFCC hosts fall mixer

   In June, the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce initiated a new approach to its quarterly member mixers. As a way to introduce Chamber members and the community to the diversity of local businesses in Three Rivers and surrounding gateway communities, the Chamber began hosting its mixers at a member’s business location.
   The fall member mixer will be held Wednesday, Sept. 17, beginning at 6:30 p.m., sponsored by the Sierra Business Center and Sierra Lodge at 43175 Sierra Drive.
   The Chamber invites all business members, as well as community members interested in the economic health of Three Rivers and surrounding gateway communities, to attend the fall member mixer.  The Chamber will provide updates on recent accomplishments and share plans for some exciting upcoming events.
   Guest speaker Erin Capuchino, tourism and marketing coordinator for the Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau, will provide an update on regional marketing efforts that promote Three Rivers and help local businesses.
   The Chamber intends to continue this trend of having its member businesses host the quarterly mixers. Member businesses interested in hosting a mixer provide the venue and refreshments. The Chamber provides door prizes, advertising, and notifies its members.
   Several businesses may partner together to host the mixer, which also could provide a unique opportunity to highlight businesses located together in one of the many “plazas” in Three Rivers.
   Chamber members interested in hosting a quarterly mixer may contact Johanna Kamansky, president, 679-9066, or Scott Mullikin, vice president and member chair, 561-3488.


Ron Zimmerman

   Ronald Carl Zimmerman of Three Rivers died Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008, at his Oriole Lake cabin. He was 60.
   Ron was born Nov. 8, 1947, in Los Angeles to Priscilla Prior and Carl Zimmerman. He was raised in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and was a member of the first graduating class of Rolling Hills High School.
   Ron was a protégé in the electrical field. This vocation ultimately culminated in the mastery of motor control and three-phase 600-volt systems. Hospitals, factories, and other specialty electrical challenges became his forte.
   Ron served in the U.S. Army and was a veteran of the Vietnam War. In the 554th Engineering Battalion, known as the “combat engineers,” Ron operated a grader to build roads for advancing U.S. troops.
   During his lifetime, Ron resided in Big Bear Lake, Hawaii, Redondo Beach, and Katherine Landing, Ariz. Kailua-Kona was home for nearly a decade during the 1980s, where Ron was both a sport and commercial fisherman.
   He opened branches for Amfac and Honsador Lumber on the Big Island while also operating his electrical business.
Ron first came to Three Rivers in the 1950s while on the way to Oriole Lake (located off the Mineral King Road, eight miles from Hwy. 198).
   More than 40 years later, in 1999, Ron and his wife, Betsy, settled in Three Rivers, where Ron opened his electrical-contracting business. It was here that he rediscovered his love for horses, recently breaking a couple of two-year-olds.
   Ron enjoyed gathering cattle and riding horses in the Sierra. He was a 32nd-degree Mason and Shriner and flew airplanes for many years, his preferred aircraft being a Beechcraft Bonanza.
   Ron is survived by his wife, Betsy; his mother, Pat Leighou; son Ronnie Zimmerman and wife Melissa; one granddaughter; his brother and sister; eight nephews; and six nieces.



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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