News and Information
for residents and visitors
Three Rivers,
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks,
Lemon Cove and Woodlake
Kaweah Kam

In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 22, 2006

Smoke is

lingering problem

   In scenes reminiscent of 2002 when Kaweah Country choked on smoke from the monstrous McNally Fire in the southern Sierra, another blazing inferno is currently causing similar breathing problems. The Day Fire, the biggest of a complex of fires now burning in Southern California, has consumed more than 131 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest and is making the local air unbearable.
   After threatening several communities near the boundary of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the Day Fire continues to burn in rugged and mostly inaccessible terrain. Just when firefighters appear to have the upper hand, those devilish Santa Ana winds kick up dozens of new flare-ups.
   Last weekend, motorists traveling over the Grapevine via Interstate 5 reported seeing flame lengths more than 100 feet high. An army of nearly 2,000 firefighters, 24 helicopters, and 10 air tankers are battling the blaze.
   As of Thursday morning, firefighters were hoping for 20 percent containment. Due to the fire’s increasing size and prevailing southwesterly winds, the smoke is likely to continue to influence local air quality.
   In the last two days, winds shifted slightly to the northwest bringing some relief to foothills locales.

  “In general, if you can smell smoke, then it’s probably at a strong enough concentration to cause health effects,” said Shawn Ferreira, a meteorologist with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
   The fires could conceivably burn until rains arrive in October or November. If wind patterns remain predominantly southwesterly, long-term exposure to smoke could cause even more serious health problems.
   A National Park Service engine crew from Grant Grove and several other local firefighters are currently on assignment in Southern California. Fire managers in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are hopeful that conditions will improve so that several planned prescribed fire projects may be ignited before the rainy season (see related story on page 6).
   According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to smoke and other particle pollution increases the incidence of respiratory infections and can cause health problems, including asthma attacks and acute bronchitis. For people with heart disease, short-term exposure to particle pollution has been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias.
   Residents in affected areas are advised to use caution when smoke is present. Older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure, strenuous activities, or heavy exertion.
   For more air quality information, call the Fresno district office, 230-6000.

Historic painting acquired

This is the first of a new occasional feature that will focus on the cultural heritage of Kaweah Country through its keepsakes and treasures that are being displayed ocally or in private collections. If you know about some important artifact of the past — a journal, an artwork, an old photo, family heirloom or other curiosity —tell your story and add another chapter to Kaweah Country’s colorful local history.

   Anyone who has ever braved the twisting, turning road to Mineral King in Sequoia National Park has undoubtedly stopped at the bend in the road near the top of “Endurance Hill.” The reason to stop at one of the most oft-photographed and compelling views of the Mineral King high country is the unmatched scenery.
   The view from the wide place near the end of the road, at an elevation slightly higher than 7,900 feet, is one of the most spectacular to be found on the planet. Sawtooth, a jagged peak at 12,343 feet towers over a steep Monarch Canyon that with each changing season, and on any given day, can become more majestic with each passing minute.
   At no time of day is that view more spectacular that at dusk as the stark ridges above treeline resound with color and the last light of the setting sun. Folks who frequent the High Sierra call this phenomenon “alpenglow” and claim that no two days are ever alike.
   To capture the sublime scene of a Mineral King alpenglow in a photo is a challenge; to do it on canvas is perhaps a way to preserve the real meaning of Mineral King treasure. An obscure artist with Kaweah Country connections created the painting depicted above more than a century ago.

  “When I first saw the painting I was immediately drawn to its subtle detail of the faint cabins and all the campfires burning in the forest,” said John McWilliams, a collector and antiques dealer from Three Rivers who recently purchased the oil on canvas from the estate of Barbara Milbradt.
   Milbradt, who was raised in Kaweah Country, rode her saddle horse all over the local mountains. In 1971, she was given the painting as a gift, she said, from another relative of the artist, Margaret Allen Oaks, who was also Barbara’s aunt.
   Barbara Milbradt died in March 2006 at the age of 82.

  “Barbara was one of my dearest Three Rivers friends and knew that I loved that painting,” said John McWilliams.
   After Barbara passed away, McWilliams made arrangements to acquire the painting. The artist was of the amateur variety and, according to McWilliams, never completed more than a few works.
   McWilliams said he plans one day to display the painting in a local exhibit so others may enjoy this historic piece, an important remnant of the Kaweah Country past.

Assemblyman Maze

plans 3R visit

   Throughout its past, Three Rivers has developed a tradition for town meetings that are indispensable for keeping local residents informed. In the past decade, agendas of town meetings have ranged from all the county services to the Three Rivers community plan and just about everything in between.
   No individual or group has done a better job of making these meetings relevant than the Three Rivers Village Foundation. Tom Sparks, a founding board member and the group’s prime mover behind the series that he calls the “Three Rivers Town Hall,” has promised another informative meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28.
   Like past meetings sponsored by the Foundation, there will be something for everyone.
   At the top of the agenda is a visit with State Assemblyman Bill Maze.
   Maze has deep roots in Tulare County and Three Rivers and is always willing to listen to the concerns of constituents. He will furnish an update on what’s going on in Sacramento.
   Attendees will also hear all the latest on what’s happening in the local national parks. That presentation will include updates on road construction and the new shuttle set to start operations in 2007.
   Sparks says there are also new developments on the scenic highway project and the toddler’s playground adjacent to the Three Rivers Library. An announcement is forthcoming related to the latter project as to when the groundbreaking will take place.
   From all the positive feedback, Sparks says he’s hearing that local folks really like the rapid-fire agenda on several topics that is scheduled to conclude by 8:30 p.m.

  “We allow plenty of time for discussion with an opportunity for some one-on-one conversation during the refreshments afterward,” Sparks said.
   For more information about the Town Hall Meetings or the Three Rivers Village Foundation, call Tom Sparks, 561-0406.

Concert on the Grass

gets better and better

Sit back in the dappled shade of a fine autumn afternoon and let yourself be carried away… Bill Haxton, Concert host

   Every autumn, on the last Saturday in September, Three Rivers plays host to some of this part of Central California’s finest performers of piano, song, drama, poetry, and dance. This year’s Concert on the Grass, to be held Sept. 30, promises to be particularly excellent, even by the standards set in the past.
   Richard Isham will open the performance with two short pieces, one by Rachmaninoff and one by Debussy. Both compositions are nicely suited to the sublime outdoors.
   Uncommon a Cappella — consisting of Three Rivers residents Ken Woodruff, Donna Quillen, Beth Rohrkemper, and Gail Matuskey — will take the stage to perform the iconic Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Teach Your Children,” followed by the swaying harmonies of “Nature Boy.”
   New to the Concert on the Grass is Mark Gutierrez. Mark recently performed live on Fresno Public Radio as one of a small group of young up-and-coming Central Valley pianists. Mark will perform Chopin’s expressive Ballade in G Minor.
   Ken Elias of Three Rivers, who earlier this year had one of his original compositions premiered by the Tulare County Symphony, will perform a Rhapsody and a Capricio by Johannes Brahms.
   Bill Haxton, the Concert’s host, will present a few original poems, and actor and master storyteller John Slade will perform excerpts from Charles Dickens’s immortal Oliver Twist, bringing to life the irresistibly endearing Oliver and several other classic characters.
   Bring a lawn chair or a blanket, picnic, and whatever beverage is preferred.
   The Concert on the Grass takes place in the yard of the Haxtons’ home at the end of Dinely Drive (signs will be posted). The Concert begins at 3 p.m.; plan to arrive by 2:30.
   Special parking arrangements will be made for anyone who wishes to attend the All-Town Dinner Dance afterward. See the Kaweah Kalendar page for contact information.

Election deadlines near

   By now, most have heard that the General Election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7. But there are some other dates of note.
The last day to register to vote in this election is Monday, Oct. 23.    Absentee ballots will be available from Monday, Oct. 9, through Tuesday, Oct. 31.
   For more information, visit or call 733-6275.

Cave newly

discovered in Sierra

   Last month, four researchers affiliated with the Cave Research Foundation discovered a cave within the boundaries of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The location of the cave is not being revealed pending evaluation and scientific study.
   The cave was found during an ongoing CRF project that conducts searches for new caves and cave passages.
   The newfound cave, located August 19, has been named Ursa Minor, after the Little Dipper constellation. “Ursus” is the scientific name for bear, a skeleton of which was found in the cave.
   The cave features expansive passages and rooms, many of which are more than 50 feet wide. Spectacular formations include long, graceful cave curtains, fragile soda straws up to six feet in length, and large areas of multicolored flowstones with brilliantly sparkling crystals.
   There is a lake within the cave that could be up to 100 feet across.
   Besides the possible bear remains, other ancient animal skeletons were found in the cave. Cave-adapted invertebrates were also seen.
Parks cave management staff are working with other experts to map the cave, inventory its features, conduct a biological inventory, photo-document the formations, and gate the entrance.

Generals Highway roadwork delays

are easy to avoid

   As reported previously, the Generals Highway roadwork is halting traffic between Big Fern Springs and Amphitheater Point about 10 miles from the Sequoia entrance station.
   These delays are barely noticeable with a little 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.
   Delays are only occurring during the daytime hours. Round-the-clock construction will begin, but not until at least October 5.
   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. Take note that from the Ash Mountain entrance station, it takes 25 to 30 minutes to reach the area.
   If coming down the mountain, plan for about 15 minutes travel time from the Giant Forest Museum to the traffic stop.

Park fires

slow-burning but persistent

   There are three lightning-caused fires currently burning in Kings Canyon National Park that will continue to spread, albeit slowly, until winter storms put a damper on them.
   The largest of these is the Roaring Fire. It has burned about 921 acres since it was ignited in July, spreading a few acres a week.
   The Ridge Fire, also in Kings Canyon, doubled in size in the past couple of weeks and has consumed 131 acres.
   The Burnt Fire (KCNP) is at 520 acres with more than 75 acres of growth in the past week.
   Prescribed fires on the fall-burning horizon could include two burns in Grant Grove in Kings Canyon, and two in Mineral King, one in Giant Forest, and one near Dorst Campground in Sequoia.

  “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 depend on the availability of fire crews and their commitments to fires around the country.


Harry Steer
1922 ~ 2006

   Harry Steer, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Friday, Sept. 15, 2006, in Spokane, Wash. He was 83.
   Harry was born Dec. 29, 1922, in Fresno County. He graduated from Fresno State University where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture.
   Harry served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1964, he married Mildred Pritchard Spotts, who was raised in Three Rivers.
   Harry and Millie were members of the Spokane First Assembly of God. Together, they were active in the church’s Senior’s Ministries.
   Harry enjoyed hunting, fishing, and spending time outdoors.
Harry was preceded in death by his sister and six brothers.
   In addition to his wife of 42 years, Millie, Harry is survived by his son, Dan Steer of Spokane; daughters Carol Glashoff of Oakland, Julie Stevens of Spokane, and Loree Poutre of Spokane; his brother, Roy Steer of Sacramento; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
   A memorial service was held yesterday (Thursday, Sept. 21) at the Spokane First Assembly of God. Harry was interred at the Pleasant Prairie Cemetery in Spokane.

Mary Nugent
1919 ~ 2006

   Mary Nugent of Three Rivers died Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, in Visalia. She was 86.
   Mary was born Nov. 26, 1919, in Toronto, Canada. She was a nurse.
   Mary was preceded in death by her husband, Arthur, and son Patrick.
   She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Barbara and Richard Merline of Three Rivers; son Thomas Nugent of Grass Valley; daughter Jo Anne Stone of Grass Valley; and daughter Patricia Devine of Vacaville; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
   A private gathering in Mary’s honor will be held at a later date.

Frank Rhodehamel
1926 ~ 2006

   Frank Westley Rhodehamel died Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006, in Fresno after a 17-year battle with cancer. He was 80.
   Frank was a fifth-generation California who was raised in Three Rivers. He graduated from Woodlake High School in 1944 and Fresno State University.
   He received his Master’s degree in Education from Stanford University. He spent nearly 50 years as an educator with the Fresno Unified School District, retiring as an administrator.
   Frank was an Eagle Scout and a scoutmaster for many years, taking scouts on many trips, including two to Mount Whitney. He was a founding member of the Sierra Hiking and Ictheological Troop, organizing and leading numerous excursions to the High Sierra.
   Frank is survived by his wife of 49 years, Kathryn; his daughter, Ann Rhodehamel-Bennett and her husband, Barry, and their daughters, Rachel and Claire, of Fresno; son Westley Rhodehamel and his wife, Deborah, and their children, Alli and Ami, of Bakersfield; and son Jon Rhodehamel of Fresno.
   A celebration of life will be held at a later date.
   Remembrances may be made to the American Cancer Society.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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