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In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 15, 2006

NPS director visits Sequoia

Farewell tour includes local parks

  In July, when Fran Mainella announced that she was resigning after six years as National Park Service Director, there were many accolades for the 59-year-old parks and recreation career veteran. Along with the heartfelt thanks from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for a job well done, Director Mainella, the agency’s 16th director and first woman ever appointed to the top position, realized that there is still so much to do… and so little time left to do it.
   Among those things that Director Mainella still had on her to-do list was to visit Sequoia National Park for the first time. With meetings scheduled at Wuksachi Lodge later in the week, she arrived a day early, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, so she and her staff could attend an Ash Mountain luncheon in her honor.
   After addressing Sequoia-Kings Canyon employees, park supporters, and area politicians, the busy director took time out to reflect on her 41-year career and where the agency needs to be in 2016, the centennial of the founding of the National Park Service.
   MAINELLA, WHO was raised and educated in Connecticut, said her career prior to being appointed by President Bush in 2001 was spent in Florida developing that state’s award-winning parks. In addition to 12 years as Florida’s Director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, she served as executive director and/or president of several statewide and national professional organizations devoted to developing park programs.
   The biggest difference she said between state parks and national parks is the significance of the resources.

  “The 390 units in the national park system have resources that are not only significant to the nation but the world,” Mainella said.
   AMONG HER priorities before she steps aside as director is to ensure that the centennial celebration receives funding in the 2008 fiscal year budget.

  “What you see here in Sequoia is still a Mission 66 park,” Mainella said. “What we want to do in the Centennial Challenge is place an emphasis on continuing to improve infrastructure and services but ensure that the parks have even more relevancy for the visitors.”
   In 1966, Congress appropriated more than $1 billion for Mission 66 projects and quadrupled the Park Service’s annual budget to $128 million. That money was used to construct park facilities and improve the sewage, electrical, and water systems.
   MAINELLA IS proud that annual park appropriations have increased 23 percent during her tenure (July 2001-October 2006), but many more dollars are needed just to keep pace with inflation and upgrade aging facilities. The Generals Highway project is what she called a “best-case scenario” of how this process works.

  “I am really impressed how this park is getting out the information about the road construction to Three Rivers and the surrounding communities,” Mainella said. “When visitors are lined up at the construction zone waiting to pass, there are interpreters there to keep them informed as to why the roadwork is being done and answer questions about the parks.”
   MAKING THE park experience more relevant to visitors has been a priority for Director Mainella, who said statistics show that 95 percent of children no longer play outside. Mainella believes everyone needs to work together to reverse this trend.

  “When I saw the reactions of children who were visiting the Sherman Tree, it was a highlight for me,” Mainella said.
   EVERYWHERE SHE went in Sequoia, she extended a warm welcome to all, shook hands with visitors, and explained to them that she was the NPS director. On Thursday, she attended official meetings with the National Park Foundation and The Conservation Fund.
   Mainella said these groups are made up of citizens who volunteer their time and resources to ensure that the parks are more meaningful to all people.
   MAINELLA SAID she endorses the nomination of Mary Bomar, the current director of the NPS Northeast Region as her replacement. One very important lesson she learned in her six years as director, she said, is that a career NPS employee would be better suited for the job.
   Confirmation of Bomar’s nomination by the U.S. Senate is pending.

  “We must continue to see that these parks are funded appropriately and that we are able to meet the Centennial Challenge.”

Family, friends, firefighters

mourn the loss of Chief Stone

  It was a sea of blue created by the hundreds of uniformed firefighters from throughout the state and a color guard unit, all waiting outside the First Assembly of God in Visalia to salute the family of Chief Robert Stone as they made their way into the funeral service. On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the Stone family and several California Department of Forestry (CDF) colleagues were escorted in a solemn procession from Exeter to the Visalia church.
   Along the route on Caldwell Avenue, many people gathered including the families of firefighters and policemen in a show of community support for Battalion Chief Robert Stone. Chief Stone and his pilot, Sandy Willett, died in a crash of a spotter plane last week while working a wildland fire near Balch Park east of Springville.
   Services for Willett, 52, of Hanford were held Wednesday.
   The gathering for Chief Stone ranked among the largest funeral services ever held in Visalia. Nearly 100 fire engines and two flag-draped ladder vehicles lined the eastern perimeter of the church grounds located on Visalia’s southwest side.
   Captain Steve Green, who worked in the CDF Tulare Unit with Chief Stone throughout his 18-year career, called the memorial service “a fitting tribute to a man who really loved his job.”
   A throng of 2,000 mourners filled the Visalia church for the 2 p.m. service to pay tribute to Chief Stone and his family. Rob, who was raised in Three Rivers and graduated from Woodlake High School, leaves behind a wife, Rindi, and two children, Wil, 8, and Libbie, 4.

  “The service was really a celebration of Rob’s life,” said Captain Green. “In our line of work these tragedies happen. Rob died doing a job he really loved. Working as a firefighter was all he ever really wanted to do.”
   Following the services for the two men, CDF investigators resumed their inquiry into what caused the crash. One CDF spokesperson said that no cause has yet been determined and sorting through the evidence at the remote site is a very time consuming process.
   Captain Green also said that a memorial plaque for Chief Stone is being made for the Three Rivers station.
   After it is installed, he said, a dedication is planned so that the community of Three Rivers can come out to honor and remember one of their own.

OBITUARY

Rob Stone, CDF battalion chief

was raised and educated in Three Rivers
1969 ~ 2006
   Robert Paul Stone, 36, of Visalia died Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006, while on an aerial reconnaissance mission in the southern Tulare County mountains.
   Rob, an 18-year veteran of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the pilot were the only ones onboard during the flight in which he was surveying a wildland fire of suspicious origin in an effort to coordinate the ground attack when the plane went down for unknown reasons. There were no survivors.
   Rob was born Oct. 28, 1969, in Burlington, Iowa. The Stones settled in Three Rivers when he was a young boy, where his parents owned and operated Three Rivers Disposal for 30 years.
   The family’s home, where Rob’s parents still reside, is located in the Sierra King area of the Mineral King Road. Until a few years ago, the CDF’s Hammond station was located nearby, which is where Rob was introduced to the firefighting profession at a young age.
   Rob attended Three Rivers Union School and graduated from Woodlake High School in 1988. Immediately upon graduating from high school, Rob embarked on his lifelong dream of being a firefighter by enrolling in the California Department of Forestry’s Firefighter Academy.
   Rob started his CDF career as a firefighter, but was soon promoted to the rank of engineer, one of the youngest ever in the state. He was advanced to captain and then, at the age of 36, earned the rank of battalion chief where he oversaw operations at the Porterville Air Attack Base.
   In his spare time Rob was a cowboy and he enjoyed assisting his Three Rivers neighbors and former high school buddies with their brandings and other ranch duties. He also loved spending time with his family in the outdoors, as well as hunting, fishing, and camping.
   Rob is survived by his wife, Rindi, son Wil, 8, and daughter Libbie, 4, of Visalia; his parents, Cliff and Ginny Stone of Three Rivers; sister Beth Jones and her husband, Matthew, and their son, Seth, of Three Rivers; sister Melissa “Missy” Martin and her husband, Dennis, and their children, Katie and Jack, of San Luis Obispo; brother Marty and wife Jaime of Three Rivers; and sister Heather Kilcullen of La Mirada.
   He is also survived by his grandmother, Louise Lyons of Burlington, Iowa; aunts Patsy Lawson of Pine, Ariz., Roberta Martindale of Waukee, Iowa, and Barbara Dessert of Woodstock, Conn.
   On Tuesday, Sept. 12, a funeral procession from Exeter to Visalia preceded a memorial service with honors.
   Remembrances in Rob’s name may be made to the Rob Stone Memorial Trust Fund at the Valley Oak Credit Union, P.O. Box 279, Three Rivers, CA 93271, or the Regional Burn Center at University Medical Center, 445 S. Cedar Ave., Fresno, CA 93702.

Vandals target

Sequoia resources

   A group of nine Southern California teenagers took a tour through Sequoia National Park, but they weren’t sightseers on this Labor Day weekend, they were sight-defacers.
   An alert park employee, Kathy O’Rourke, equipment operator, was the first to become suspicious. On Saturday, Sept. 2, she noticed fresh paint on Hospital Rock, a popular visitor stop and archaeological site, and reported the damage, according to Alex Picavet, parks information officer.
   A ranger also noticed that day that there was something unusual about a group of youthful park visitors riding in a commercial, multi-passenger vehicle with no adults. Further investigation revealed that the vandals were leaving a trail of graffiti along the Generals Highway to Giant Forest.
   They defaced Tunnel Rock, the Giant Forest Museum, and several natural features, including a giant sequoia. At about 2 p.m., attendants at the Sequoia entrance station recognized the vehicle, and its occupants were detained as they were attempting to exit.
   Graffiti, an act of vandalism usually associated with gangs, is not new in national parks. Although catching the perpetrators in the act is rare, it has now happened twice in the past 18 months in Sequoia.
   In March 2005, a park ranger witnessed two teens spray-painting a rock retaining wall along the Generals Highway and the suspects were arrested.
   In January 2005, the South Fork Campground in Sequoia was closed while park personnel made repairs facilities damaged by vandals. During Memorial Day weekend 2003, the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park was tagged at nine separate locations.
   What shocked Yosemite officials about that incident was that 2,000 or so visitors walked along the popular trail during the holiday weekend, but only one person thought to report the crime. The NPS does not want visitors to assume that seeing graffiti is typical of the park experience.

  “Graffiti does happen in these parks,” said Picavet. “But it is removed as soon as it is discovered.”
   If arrested for this type of vandalism in a national park, a suspect must appear before a federal magistrate. Charges have been filed against some of the suspects in the recent incident and the investigation is continuing.
   If convicted, the vandals could be sentenced to six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine plus restitution.
   Anyone with information about unlawful activity in the national parks should call the NPS toll-free hotline, 1-888-NPS-CRIME.

TRUS exceeds

academic testing goals

   Three Rivers Union School students went over and above what was required of them during last spring’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, which resulted in the school receiving its highest score ever on the Academic Performance Index ratings scale.
   TRUS met the necessary benchmarks for student test-score improvement this year, while some other local schools struggled to hit state goals, according to a report released August 31 by the state Department of Education.
   ABOUT THE TESTS— The state’s target, reported as the “Academic Performance Index,” is based on several STAR tests students took during the last half of the 2005/2006 school year — including the California High School Exit Exam (10th grade), the CAT/6, and the California Standards Test.
   Starting in 1997, these STAR tests have been developed to measure students’ understanding of core academic subjects. The California Standards Test examines children’s understanding of state-mandated curriculum — including English, math, history, and science — from second to 11th grades. Students scores fall into five categories: Far Below Basic, Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.
   A separate test, the CAT/6, is taken only by third and seventh-graders. The resulting scores, released last month, compare local students’ test performance with national averages in reading, language, mathematics, and spelling.
   The school-progress results are part of the California Department of Education’s annual Accountability Progress Report.
   The API Growth Report, an important part of the APR, shows how much a school improves each year on these tests, assigning each a score from 200 to 1,000. The state target score is 800, and the state assigns each school growth targets if it doesn’t meet that benchmark.
   Federal growth standards, set under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, are based on graduation rates, state standardized tests, and the state’s exit exam. Schools that don’t attain their annual growth targets — called Annual Yearly Progress — in consecutive years can face sanctions and, ultimately, state takeover.
   LOCAL SCHOOL RESULTS— Eight schools in Tulare County exceeded the state’s API 800 mark — no high schools — including Columbine (839), Lincoln (Exeter, 815), Hot Springs (853), Three Rivers (837), Garden (Tulare, 814), and in Visalia, Linwood (841), Oak Grove (847), and Royal Oaks (842).
Sequoia Union School in Lemon Cove and Woodlake Union High School didn’t meet their API growth targets.
   Sequoia Union had a 19-point slip in its score, from 759 in 2005 to 740 in 2006. Woodlake High School’s score also took a dip, from 613 to the current 602, however, Woodlake’s two elementary schools and one middle school all showed improvement.

Search-and-rescue

has happy ending

   On Tuesday, Sept. 12, about 7:45 p.m., a camper at the Cold Spring Campground in Mineral King called 911 to report that his companion had not returned from a dayhike.
   The missing person, initially reported to be a man in his 60s, had planned to hike in the Tar Gap area that day, but failed to return by nightfall.
   Searchers on the ground and in a helicopter began combing the area by early Wednesday. The trailhead is located on the west end of the campground with Tar Gap and the nearby Mineral Lakes both accessed by cross-country travel only.
   The hiker was found by 10 a.m. after spending a chilly night in the wilderness.
   There have been four fatalities within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year, all of which occurred within Kings Canyon’s boundaries.
   According to Alex Picavet, parks information officer, this is still a high mortality rate but lower than last year, in which 11 weather-related deaths could possibly have set a record.
   Hikers in the Sierra should be prepared for all types of weather conditions, always tell someone where they are going and when they expect to return and, if possible, never hike alone.

Generals Highway

delays avoidable

   As reported previously, the Generals Highway roadwork is causing delays between Big Fern Springs and Amphitheater Point about 10 miles from the Sequoia entrance station.
   These delays are easy to avoid with a little bit of pre-trip planning. The uphill traffic is guided through the construction zone on weekdays at the top of every hour and the downhill traffic follows.
   Currently, the delays are only occurring during the daytime hours. Construction into the night hours will occur, but is not expected to begin for at least another week.
   To minimize visitor delays at the entrance station, park passes are now on sale at Three Rivers motels as well as Sequoia Gifts & Souvenirs and the Chamber of Commerce office.
   Three Rivers residents and visitors can plan their trip to minimize the wait at the construction zone. From the Ash Mountain entrance, it takes 25 to 30 minutes to reach the area.

Park fires persistent

but slow-burning

   There are five lightning-caused fires currently burning in the parks that will continue to spread, albeit slowly, until winter storms put a damper on them.
   Four of the fires are in Kings Canyon National Park and one is in Sequoia. The largest of these is the Roaring Fire. It has burned about 860 acres since it was ignited in July, spreading just over 30 acres in the past week.
   The Ridge Fire, also in Kings Canyon, doubled in size in the past week and has consumed 105 acres. The Burnt Fire (KCNP) is at 190 acres and the Silliman (Sequoia) and Dead Pine (KCNP) fires are an acre or less.
   The Roaring and Ridge fires have fire monitors and patrols onsite. The Silliman and Dead Pine fires are being monitored by air.
   Prescribed fires on the fall-burning horizon could include two burns in Grant Grove, two in Mineral King, one in Giant Forest, and one near Dorst Campground.

  “After speaking with Ben Jacobs, our fuels specialist, he thinks that Silver [Mineral King] and Cabin Meadow [Dorst] will probably be our priorities for the fall,” said Jody Lyle, Sequoia-Kings Canyon fire information officer. “This isn’t to say that the other projects won’t happen.”
   Besides local conditions, including weather and air quality, the ignitions of prescribed fires also depends on the availability of fire crews and their commitments to other fires throughout the country.

 
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