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In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 14, 2007


ON THE LOOKOUT:
Volunteers staff three area fire towers

Endangered, but
making a comeback

   FIRE LOOKOUT TOWERS HAD almost gone the way of the grizzly in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their extinction was imminent.
   Between 1930 to the 1950s, there were about 8,000 fire lookout towers in the United States. Today, less than 100 remain in service.
   In the nearby mountains, there are three lookout towers that have been making a comeback in recent years. They have reopened, been renovated, and are manned with “fire lookouts,” due in large part to the efforts of a volunteer program organized by the Buck Rock Foundation.
   Fire lookout towers provide a vantage point and shelter for the fire lookouts. It’s a small building — called a cab — but a tall one as it is built on a tower that is strategically situated on a mountaintop or set on a rock pinnacle in order to provide maximum viewing potential.
   In 1933, with the development of the CCCs (President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps), a major project was to build fire lookout towers and access roads. As modern technology became the vogue, it was believed that there were faster and more effective ways to discover potentially dangerous wildland fires.
   After all, how could a mere pair of eyes scanning the horizon be more effective than space satellites, aerial reconnaissance, and even cell phones? Actually, it’s being proven that the eyes have it.
   In rugged terrain as in this part of the Sierra, lookouts have once again found a niche. Satellites can only spot a major conflagration, so by then management, control, or timely suppression is out of the question.
   Aircraft is expensive; one day of flying can cost as much or more than a lookout tower’s entire monthly budget. And cell phone signals, as Three Rivers knows, are hit and miss in the mountains.

Then there were three

   IN THE HEYDAY OF the fire lookout, there were more than 40 towers dotting the summits of mountains throughout the southern Sierra, on public lands in Sequoia and Sierra national forests and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Today, there are 11 that are in service.
   The following are staffed by the Buck Rock Foundation:

  —BUCK ROCK LOOKOUT TOWER is accessed via the Big Meadows Road in Giant Sequoia National Monument, off the Generals Highway between Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.
   Buck Rock is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., June through October. From the parking lot, 172 steps lead to a ground cab perched on a granite dome at 8,550 feet elevation.
   The U.S. Forest Service closed Buck Rock during the 1980s; after about 10 years, the facility was reopened and is currently manned seven days a week during fire season. The current structure was built in 1923 with the stairs being built (to replace the ladders) in 1942.

  —PARK RIDGE LOOKOUT TOWER is located above the Grant Grove village via the Panorama Point/Crystal Springs Campground road in Kings Canyon National Park. From the Panorama Point picnic area, a walk along a 2.5-mile scenic trail and/or two-mile fire road provides access for visitors.
   The lookout tower is at 7,500 feet elevation on the boundary of Kings Canyon park and Giant Sequoia National Monument. The cab is located atop a 20-foot tower.
   This lookout tower was also out of service for more than a decade, but reopened in 2004. It is now in operation most weekends and some weekdays (as volunteer staffing permits) throughout fire season (June through October).
   Park Ridge is one of just two fire lookout towers still standing in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The other is Milk Ranch, which stands abandoned on its perch overlooking Three Rivers and the Kaweah’s Middle Fork canyon.
   Previously, there were 14 towers and observation points throughout the parks, but all have since been abandoned, dismantled, or razed.

  —DELILAH LOOKOUT TOWER is located on the western edge of Giant Sequoia National Monument, about eight miles (and 40 minutes) from Highway 180. It is accessed via a Forest Service road that is just east of the Snowline Lodge between Squaw Valley and the Kings Canyon park entrance.
   Delilah is located at 5,176 feet elevation. The cab stands sentry atop an 80-foot metal tower.

  “She sways in the wind and moans,” said Wendy Garton of Pinehurst, the Buck Rock Foundation’s volunteer lookout coordinator and Delilah’s primary lookout.

Buck Rock Foundation:
On a mission

   KATHY BALL IS AN award-winning Forest Service fire lookout who has been stationed at the Buck Rock Lookout Tower for the past 15 years. She was instrumental in the creation of the Buck Rock Foundation and is currently its president and executive director.
   Kathy may be found five days a week during fire season manning the Buck Rock station. She is also dedicated to the Buck Rock Foundation’s mission of preserving the traditional uses of fire lookout towers and ensuring the preservation of the structures by exploring other possible uses (wildlife/weather observation and study, overnight rentals, etc.).
   The Foundation is also busy restoring and upgrading fire lookouts throughout the southern Sierra, a constant job because of the extreme conditions the towers endure. The group also educates the public about the significance of fire lookouts through interpretation provided at its manned towers, via its website (www.buckrock.org), and at community events.
   A major project the group will undertake this winter is renovating a former Forest Service ranger office in Pinehurst into a headquarters and museum for the Foundation. The organization will finally have a home where they can manage their archives and ultimately plans to have an actual lookout cab on the property for public tours and other educational opportunities. The nonprofit Foundation is operated solely by donations, grants, and volunteers.

 

Buck Rock Foundation
and its volunteers

   KEN GREENSPAN OF THREE RIVERS is just wrapping up his first season as a volunteer fire lookout. He is a fourth/fifth-grade science teacher who spends his summer in various capacities of volunteerism.
   Last Saturday, Ken was assigned to scan the skyline at the Park Ridge tower. He spent that night in the tower and resumed his lookout duties on Sunday.
   Park Ridge offers 360-degree views spanning from the wilderness beyond Kings Canyon to Mount Whitney; the foothills communities of Badger, Pinehurst, and beyond; as well as campgrounds and recreational areas in Kings Canyon National Park and the Eshom Valley area.
   Ken is one of two Three Rivers residents currently participating in the Buck Rock Foundation’s volunteer fire lookout program. About 15 volunteers total are trained to man the three stations.

  “It’s the ultimate in car-camping,” Ken said, explaining that he hauls in all his supplies, including food and drinking water, but there is electricity; a bed; a stove, oven, and microwave; and a roof over his head.
   Volunteer lookouts such as Ken provide fire detection services by scanning the terrain at least once every 15 minutes, monitoring radio communications, and offering a wealth of information to visitors. In addition to preserving the utility of the lookout towers, the volunteers are protecting the wilderness as well as foothills and mountain communities from catastrophic wildfires while informing visitors about fire safety and stewardship of public lands.
   To be a fire lookout, one must be in good general health, have good eyesight, be able to read a topographical map, think quickly and calmly in emergency situations, be able to work with minimal supervision, and feel comfortable living and working in an isolated area.
   Training requires a commitment of two full (non-consecutive) days of orientation. Potential volunteers will receive instruction in fire detection and the use of the Osborne Fire Finder, which is used in conjunction with other towers to triangulate the precise location of a fire.
   Other skills learned include weather patterns, thunderstorm activity, and types of clouds (which are also not to be confused with smoke). Basic map-reading lessons will include the recognition of various topography as well as township, range, and section locations.
   Volunteer lookouts may sign up to work as much or as little as their schedules allow. It is important, however, that lookouts work enough to keep their skills honed.
   Wendy explained that during weekends this summer, the stations have mostly been staffed. In addition, the Fourth of July is booked for years in advance, understandably the most popular day to be on duty at such an optimal vantage point for viewing fireworks displays in the San Joaquin Valley.
   There were some unmanned weekdays this season at Park Ridge and Delilah. Also, in the fall, volunteers become sparse as teachers, such as Ken, and others head back to their paying vocations.
   Other volunteer opportunities available through the Buck Rock Foundation include ongoing restoration projects, fundraising and public relations, education and interpretation, and the collection and archiving of photos, documents, and other historical information.
   To offer volunteer services to the Buck Rock Foundation, download the interest form at:
www.buckrock.org/Volunteerform.pdf
and mail it to:
Buck Rock Foundation
P.O. Box 540
Squaw Valley, CA 93675
   And on your next outing to the nearby mountains this fall, make a lookout tower a destination for a lesson in cultural history and preservation… and a spectacular view.


Park visitors seek refunds
after enduring traffic snafu


   Some time the best laid plans of mice and men go astray... and apparently that’s what happened Sunday evening during the busy Labor Day weekend. Among the memories of hundreds of Sequoia National Park visitors on that day will be an extended stint of waiting in line for a signal light to turn green on the Generals Highway near Amphitheater Point on the uphill side of the one-lane road construction zone.
   According to varying reports from persons at the scene, the automatic traffic light actually turned green at regular 20-minute intervals but only permitted a small number of vehicles to pass until it turned red again. Cathy Alonso of Three Rivers said she and several vehicles in her part of the long lineup waited for nearly two hours before calling the park dispatcher to see what might be causing the unusually long delay.
   Alonso said she had arrived in the traffic lineup shortly after 6 p.m. after showing some visiting friends around the Giant Forest earlier that afternoon. Her arrival time coincided with the time that traffic-control personnel were getting off for the day.

  “We anticipated that the holiday weekend traffic might present some problems so we were escorting vehicles through the zone the entire day,” said Rosemary Stimpel, owner of Force Traffic Control in Exeter. “When traffic starts to build, we allow more vehicles to pass even after the lights have changed.”
   The control personnel monitor the flow so that no wrong-way vehicles enter the narrow roadway in the one-and-a-half-mile zone. During work stoppages, the lights are set at one or two-minute intervals. The Federal Highway Administration, the lead agency in the project, refused to pay for any monitoring overtime hours after 6 p.m.

  “When park rangers were dispatched to the scene, they reported that the signal lights were working properly,” said Alexandra Picavet, parks spokesperson. “There were some [NPS] park personnel in line who said the wait time was typical for a day with heavy traffic.”
   Apparently, several things combined that evening to make the typical wait, that for most of the summer has been an inconvenience but uneventful, a little longer than usual.

  “What might have happened is that the folks who were out of their vehicles didn’t all make it back until the light had changed,” said a Force spokesperson. “There were also unconfirmed reports of a car with hot brakes that at least for one sequence was blocking the road.”
   Alonso said she can certainly understand delays on such a busy holiday weekend, but that there should have been somebody assisting motorists that were waiting for the traffic signals.

  “I’m sure a lot of folks messed up their plans for dinner and travel connections, and there should have been some more consideration for the hundreds of visitors waiting in line,” said Alonso. “I think an entrance fee refund and maybe an apology would be a nice gesture to those folks who waited patiently and were just trying to follow the rules.”

3R Recreation Committee:
NO directors, NO youth sports


   For those who choose to volunteer — and there are many in Three Rivers — there can’t be a more important opportunity currently available than on the Three Rivers Recreation Committee.
   With more than one-quarter of American children being overweight or obese, it is imperative that community members work together to ensure that children have activities available that will keep them away from the television, computer, and video games as well as teach them athletic skills to last a lifetime.
   The Three Rivers Recreation Committee organizes the sports leagues that play at Three Rivers School, including men’s summer softball, Monday night volleyball, and various youth sports. They operate under the auspices of the Three Rivers School board of trustees.
   Currently, three longtime board members are scheduled to depart the Recreation Committee board at the end of the year. Efforts in the recent past to recruit new members have proven futile.
   Now the situation is serious. If no volunteers come forward to serve on the board, it will be disbanded, which means organized youth sports in Three Rivers will also cease to exist.

  “The primary programs consist of soccer, basketball, and tee-ball,” said Heidi Crouch, who has served on the board for more than 10 years. “The meetings are held at the school once a month and generally last about one hour.”
   Ideally, parents of TRUS students have the most to gain by volunteering on the board, however, any interested Three Rivers resident is invited to apply by calling the Three Rivers School office, 561-4466.

Crescent Meadow Road

to close for season

   This weekend will be the last chance for visitors to drive to the base of Moro Rock or out to Crescent Meadow until spring of next year. That’s because work to recondition and resurface the popular road is set to begin Monday, Sept. 17.
   Since it travels through the heart of the Giant Forest grove of sequoias, the road will not be widened or realigned because of the potential damage that might cause to the ancient trees. But it has been more than 30 years since the route has received a major upgrade, which is necessary to accommodate increased traffic as well as shuttle buses, so the resurfacing will be a noticeable improvement.
   The Crescent Meadow/Moro Rock area is a busy visitor attraction. There have been stairs to the summit of Moro Rock since 1917. After a giant sequoia fell in 1931, the Auto Log (now closed to drive-on traffic) was opened.
   Tunnel Log was also carved from a sequoia that fell across the road in the 1930s. The Crescent Meadow area is popular with picnickers and where the High Sierra Trail begins (it terminus is Mount Whitney).
   Visitors will still be able to experience the area via an extensive trail system that begins at the Giant Forest Museum.

Bike event has

something for all

   When Kevin Foster, a local adventure cyclist, decided to host a Smile Train charity bike ride in 2006, he didn’t know what to expect. A dozen riders forked over the $50 entry fee and completed a road course that included a jaunt to Exeter and back over Rocky Hill.
   A spate of donations was collected, enough to surgically fix 14 smiles. Everyone involved realized that the $250 for each cleft palate operation was a small price to pay to do something life-changing for children.
   Earlier this year, the second annual Smile Train Charity Bike Ride found a willing partner in the Sequoia Bike Jamboree. Now, tomorrow’s (Saturday, Sept. 15) fun-filled family fest seems destined to raise enough for a ton of smiles.
   Greg Thompson, who organized the “jamboree” side of things, said he wants to cater to families of riders who aren’t experienced enough to complete a 25 or 50-mile ride like the other Smile Train riders. So his ride, which is really a parade that is more about bike safety, begins on Eggers Drive next to Three Rivers School and ends on North Fork Drive at the Arts Center.
   There’s no registration fee for the bike parade, but there is an impressive prize package of freebies for each kid and adult rider who sign up. Along the way, Greg hopes to form a parade of bikes long enough to be officially listed in the next Guinness Book of World Records.

  “We’re prepared with goodies for 750 bike riders and if we don’t break the record this time, we’ll do it next year,” Thompson said.
   Each jamboree rider gets a custom t-shirt, refreshments, and a raffle ticket with a chance to go home with some impressive prizes including a big screen TV, a laptop, an IPod Nano, and a customized bike.

  “I couldn’t believe the response from retailers who practically lined up to donate prizes for this biking themed event,” Thompson said. “Everything we raise from selling additional raffle tickets and all funds collected will be added to the Smile Train proceeds.”
   Thompson, a veteran Future Farmers of America (FFA) fundraiser peddles a line of jerky as a side business and hopes to one day open a local campground. He is the consummate promoter always looking for a cause and thinks the timing is right for a biking event to become a Three Rivers institution.

  “I like to think of myself as the self-appointed mayor of Three Rivers,” Thompson said. “But unlike your traditional mayor I’m not into politics, I’m into promotion. Adding another event makes Three Rivers a more attractive destination and could have a real economic impact.”
   At the very least, Thompson added, riding bikes is healthy exercise, and good old fashioned family fun. Foster, the events’ original organizer is a native New Yorker, and hails from cycling’s more serious side.
   As a so-called adventure cyclist and self-dubbed Captain America, Foster has focused attention on the sport by riding in exotic locales like Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba and atop the Great Wall of China. He’s well acquainted with cycling’s celebrities many of whom have lent support to his event.
   But the coup this year, Foster says, is getting Sequoia National Park to permit a throng of mountain bikers to ride off-road on a scenic foothill route that has not been accessible in the past.
   Foster has the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) of Los Angeles enthused and they have entered a couple dozen of their members in the Three Rivers event.

  “Never in my recollection has a national park in California given mountain bikers such access,” said Jim Hasenaur a former IMBA board member. “This is a really big deal and a wonderful opportunity to be a part of a worthwhile event.”
   Bikers for Foster’s ride can choose from a 25-mile or 50-mile route. The entry fee is a $50 donation. Each rider gets a “schwag bag” full of goodies worth more than the entry fee. There is also a silent auction at Lions Arena with lots of biking specialty items including a 21-speed mountain bike and a “yellow jersey” autographed by Greg Lemonde, three-time Tour de France champion.
   We Three Bakery and Restaurant and Village Market are teaming up to ensure all the riders will be well fed and hydrated. Sign-ups at the Lions Arena will be taken right up to the ride’s start time of 8 a.m.
   Riders in the bike parade should report at 8 a.m. to the Jamboree’s RV that will be parked on Eggers Drive adjacent to Three Rivers School.

State reports schools’ 2007 APIs

   Let’s just say Three Rivers School has had its ups and downs. In API scores, that is.
   In 2006, the school received its highest score ever on the Academic Performance Index (API) ratings scale — an 833, which is over and above the state’s benchmark of 800.
   In 2007, as a result of last spring’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, the school received an API of 799, reflecting a drop of 34 points from the previous year. That’s still an acceptable score by Tulare County standards where only three schools received APIs of over 800 this year.
   In the past nine years, Three Rivers School, with only just over 100 students testing, has been unpredictable in their API scores, but the school has never been far from the state’s mandates and consistently has met its “Adequate Yearly Progress” target goals, a federal growth standard added to the mix by President Bush’s controversial 2001 No Child Left Behind act.
   Schools that don’t attain their AYP targets in consecutive years can face sanctions and even state takeover.
   The annual API growth report shows how much a school improves each year on several standardized tests by assigning a score from 200 to 1,000. The state would like to see every school at or above 800, and the state assigns each school growth targets if it doesn’t meet that goal.
   Except for 2006, when there was a drop of a mere 8 points, Woodlake High School has consistently improved its scores. In 1999, the school was dealing with a score of 479.
   These days the school seems to be firmly above the 600 mark, again an acceptable score considering that, for instance, this year, of the 560 students that were tested, 229 were classified as “English learners,” a proven handicap during standardized tests.
   WHS also met its federal AYP growth target for 2007.

Hollywood actor to play ‘Concert’

   Film and television star Ronny Cox will headline this year’s Concert on the Grass, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, 2:30 p.m. Nearly everyone has enjoyed his performances on screen, but when pressed to it, he openly admits his first love is music.
   That’s where he started his professional career and that’s where he’s headed now. Nevertheless, he still is one of the most respected and sought-after character actors in Hollywood.
   Since his debut in John Boorman's film Deliverance, in which he played his own guitar in the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene, Ronny has appeared in over 50 films including Beverly Hills Cop(1 and 2), Bound for Glory, RoboCop, Total Recall, and too many others to mention.
   He has starred in numerous TV movies and TV series, such as Apple’s Way, St. Elsewhere, The Agency and, of course, as Senator Kinsey in Stargate SG-1. Last year, he played opposite Carol Burnett on ABC’s Desperate Housewives and had another guest spot on Commander in Chief in May.
   In the past few years, Ronny has concentrated on his music. The results include being named a finalist in the South Florida Singer/Songwriter competition, headlining such venues as the prestigious Old Town School of Folk in Chicago and hitting one of his favorite stops along the way, the annual Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, Texas.
   His latest recording is “How I Love Them Old Songs: Ronny Cox Sings Mickey Newbury,” but his homegrown folk music and the storytelling that goes with it can be found on previous recordings such as “Ronny Cox Live,” “Cowboy Savant,” and “Acoustic Eclectricity.”

  “I'm interested in weaving a tapestry of songs and stories with an overall arc that eventually comes together and tells us something about the human condition,” explained Ronny. “I know that sounds somewhat pompous, but that's what I'm trying to do, and to have a few laughs along the way.”
   At this year’s Concert, Ronny will perform numerous selections from his highly popular live show “Songs, Stories and Out & Out Lies.”

  “This promises to be entertaining to the max,” said Bill Haxton, host and organizer of the Concert on the Grass. “Put it on your calendar now.”
   The event will be held at the Haxtons’ home, 44879 Dinely Drive. Admission is free and its open to the public.

Art supplies wanted for TRUS

   The Arts Alliance of Three Rivers is collecting new and gently-used art and music supplies that will be donated to Three Rivers School to benefit the visual and performing arts programs.
   Bins will be located at Three Rivers Drug and Sequoia Gifts & Souvenirs through Sunday, Sept. 30.
   Supplies may also be dropped off during the Arts Alliance’s upcoming meeting Saturday, Sept. 22 (see Kaweah Kalendar page on this website for details).
   For more information, call 561-3559.

OBITUARY

Donald Nemetz
1917 ~ 2007

   Donald Edward Nemetz of Three Rivers died Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, in Lindsay. He would have turned 90 in two weeks.

  “He passed away as he wished,” said his son, Brad, “in his sleep, after a brief illness.”
   Donald was born Sept. 26, 1917, in Blair, Neb. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska.
   During World War II, Donald served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant on a destroyer. In his lifetime, he embarked on two careers; first as a management consultant, then as a university professor.
   Donald is survived by his wife of 64 years, Rowena; two sons, Bradley Nemetz and Tesfaye Demeke; and daughter Carol Williams.
   Private services will be held.

 
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