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Before: Washington Tree, May 1999
After: Washington Tree, October 2003
As we ascended the plateau and caught our first glimpse of the Washington Tree, all six people in our party stopped and stared. The group fell silent as each individual mourned in their own private way.
* * *
On Monday, Oct. 27, John and Sarah Elliott, publishers of The Kaweah Commonwealth, met their National Park Service escorts at the new Pinewood Picnic Area, about a mile north of the Giant Forest Museum along Generals Highway. After suiting up in gear necessary for safety in an active fire area — Nomex fire-resistant shirts and pants, gloves, and hardhats, and carrying fire shelters — we headed out cross-country to view firsthand the damage sustained to one of the largest and oldest living things on Earth. Leading the way was Nate Stephenson, USGS research ecologist, accompanied by Sequoia Park’s Jody Lyle, fire information officer; Dave Allen, district fire management officer; and Alex Picavet, public information officer.
by John Elliott
Foresight… in hindsight
In the 1980s, Eric Barnes, an interpretive ranger at Sequoia National Park, campaigned against burning giant sequoias. Barnes was so adamant in his opposition that the distinctive burn scars on the Big Trees are still referred to as "Barnes scars"by some park personnel.
David Brower, renowned Berkeley environmentalist, even went so far as to resign his position as a director of the Sierra Club in 1985 because he could not get the board to endorse the campaign to end the burning in Giant Forest.
Then, on Sept. 13, 2003, a fire monitor patrolling the Giant Fire — which had been allowed to burn since ignited by lightning on July 30 — reported what opponents of burning the Big Trees had feared most. The Washington Tree, the second largest tree on the planet, was on fire.
On guard… off guard
On Saturday, Sept. 12, as fire crews left the area, the Washington Tree was intact, explained Dave Allen. By the time the patrols returned Sunday, the tree was ablaze, he said.
"When it was discovered that the Washington Tree was burning, crew members used bladder bags to pour water at the base," said Jody Lyle, Sequoia National Park fire information officer.
The tree caught fire because of the decision to allow the lightning-caused Giant Fire to spread northward into an area that included the Washington Tree. Lyle said the prescribed-fire policy allows for the fuel loads in and around named trees, or "trees of special interest," to be assessed, but not necessarily cleared.
In this case, fire managers felt that fuel loads in the vicinity of the Washington Tree were not dangerous, Lyle said. No clearing of debris or building fire line was undertaken, although these precautions had been taken for other nearby giants on other occasions.
The fire caused the collapse of the upper western side of the Washington Tree, including its characteristic large branch, which was bigger than a mature fir tree. Some greenery remains, but 20 feet or more of foliage from the crown was lost. The height before the recent fire was 230 feet.
Nate Stephenson said he was saddened by the loss and feels that the remains of the Washington Tree no longer qualify for second place among the world’s giants. The official position of the park is that the measured size is based upon "restored volume," not actual size, so, for now, the Washington Tree is still considered the second largest giant sequoia.
Before the Giant Fire, the Washington Tree, estimated to be at least 2,800 years old, had suffered damage from other natural fires. In 1981, the area around the tree was burned as a part of a park-ignited fire, a factor in allowing the recent lightning-caused blaze to burn without reducing fuel loads.
Stephenson, an acknowledged expert on giant sequoias, believes that even with the intensive damage, the Washington Tree will survive. In 2000, Stephenson said, another researcher rappelled 115 feet into the tree to discover that it contained a giant hollow cavity.
But the pressing question remains. Should precautions be taken to protect the ancient giant sequoias, especially named specimens like the Washington Tree?
In the coming months, park managers and scientists will reassess fire-protection procedures.
"I want to outline realistic measures for protecting special trees," said Dick Martin, Sequoia and Kings Canyon superintendent." We want to do all we can while remembering that fire is a natural part of a sequoia forest."
The fire has affected a total of 275 acres and is no longer spreading. Trail closures remain in effect in the Giant Forest area, including the trail to the Washington Tree.
A Chevrolet Suburban descending Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 20, became a speeding deathtrap for a family of six as its brakes failed. It is estimated that the vehicle reached speeds of 50 to 55 miles per hour in areas where the speed limit is posted at 25 m.p.h. before crashing near Potwisha Campground.
When the driver realized the brakes were no longer operable, he began passing vehicles to avoid hitting them from behind. After passing one vehicle, the Suburban re-entered its own lane to avoid oncoming traffic, and in doing so, hit a pickup truck.
The Suburban then left the roadway and hit a large oak tree. The occupants of the pickup were not injured, but six people in the Suburban sustained injuries.
A 911 call was received by the park dispatcher at 3:42 p.m. The Ash Mountain Fire Brigade, park medics, and two helicopters were dispatched to the incident. In addition, several off-duty park employees heard the call and arrived to assist.
Two of the victims were airlifted to medical facilities; four others were transported by ambulance. All are expected to recover from their injuries.
The investigating ranger believes that the driver did not downshift the vehicle, but instead overused the brakes on the narrow, curvy road that descends 4,700 vertical feet in just under 17 miles, from Giant Forest to the Ash Mountain entrance station.
"I’ve worked many accidents and most of them have been the result of people riding their brakes too hard until they fail," said Scott Martin, park ranger and the accident’s incident commander." It is very important to remember to downshift when traveling on the Generals Highway, up or down these steep grades. If the people involved in this accident had not been wearing their seatbelts, this could have resulted in a real tragedy."
Eight of the last 12 accidents in the Ash Mountain area have been brake-related.
by John Elliott
Campaign trail: Making an appearance at last Tuesday’s Town Meeting and Election Forum were (from left to right) Vince Andrus, Tom Sparks, Bud Pinkham, county Supervisor Bill Sanders, Marlene Sario, Rod Simonian, and Dennis Mills.
On Tuesday night (October 28), in what’s become a campaign tradition, Supervisor Sanders’s Three Rivers Town Meeting was the forum for six local candidates to address issues that they might be dealing with if and when they are elected. Two of the candidates, Bud Pinkham and Marlene Sario will face off in the March 2004 primary election for the District 1 seat, which includes Three Rivers, on the county Board of Supervisors.
In this coming Tuesday’s consolidated district election, four candidates — Rod Simonian, Tom Sparks, Vince Andrus, and Dennis Mills — are vying for three vacant seats on the board of directors of the Three Rivers Community Services District (CSD).
Supervisor Sanders opened the meeting by saying that because of the uncertainty in the delivery of county services, there is now more importance in being elected to the local CSD.
"In the future, the CSD may have to step in and do even more where the county is no longer able to provide a program or a service," Sanders said.
Sanders then told the two supervisor candidates in the audience, Bud Pinkham and Marlene Sario what they might expect if either are elected. Both are Exeter residents who are seeking to fill the District 1 seat that includes Three Rivers after Sanders retires in 2004.
Sanders concluded his remarks by saying it’s going to be a neat trick on how Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger intends to backfill $16 million to Tulare County coffers if he succeeds in rolling back the vehicle license fee.
The meeting then focused on the local CSD candidates, each of whom delivered brief remarks (see page 5).
The next Town Meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec.6, will feature an update of the Three Rivers Community Plan. For more information about the upcoming meeting or any county related business, call 733-6271.
The only issue on the Tuesday, Nov. 4, for Three Rivers voters to decide
is who will fill three four-year seats on the local Community Services
board. The following are the four candidates, all of whom addressed the audience
during the Election Forum last Tuesday evening. They are listed here in the
order they appear on the ballot:
Rod Simonian, a Three Rivers resident since the 1970s, said he is a small-business owner who stands for community.
"I would really like to see the rest stop completed so the tourists can have somewhere decent to use a bathroom," Simonian said.
Tom Sparks, an appointed incumbent, said he has already served 10 months on the board and would like to continue in public service. Born in Lindsay and raised in Porterville, Sparks said he always wanted to retire in Three Rivers after a career in the power industry.
Vince Andrus, a local building contractor and elected incumbent, said he would like another four years to complete some of the business that was started during his tenure on the board. Andrus also said that he would like to see the rest stop become a reality.
In the CSD community survey that Andrus worked on as a board member, he said the community expressed a preference for a youth center, but respondents weren’t enthusiastic about paying for any new programs or projects.
Dennis Mills said after growing up in Three Rivers he attended Indiana University and then worked as a firefighter. He is currently a transportation engineer with Tulare County.
"I’d like to give something back to the community by serving on the CSD board," Mills said." I think my experience with grant programs will be a big help."
On Monday, Oct. 27, Tulare County Conservation Corps workers (from left to right) Carlos Tapia, Brittany Holcomb, Kerry Joseph (supervisor), and Giovanni Rojas were part of a crew of 12 who removed arundo from the vicinity of the Naturedome in Three Rivers. The three-day eradication effort of the non-native bamboo-like vegetation, Arundo donax, that has established itself in and along the Kaweah River was coordinated by C-SET (Community Services and Employment Training), Sequoia Riverlands Trust, and the County of Tulare’s Rural Conservation District with a grant from the California Department of Conservation. The event was scheduled to coincide with the nationwide "Make a Difference Day"on Saturday, Oct. 25.
Petit Pinson, in the shadow of Mount Everest in May 2003.
It has been four short months since I returned from the other side of the world.
Driving across Tibet was vast and magical… a different kind of beauty. The silence speaks loudly of a challenging past and a hopeful future.
To actually arrive at Everest Base Camp was a moment of which I had only dreamed.
Previously, we had run across the deserts of the Kalahari in 120-degree heat, used machetes to find our way through the rainforests and rivers of Costa Rica, and faced relentless icy winds as we skied across the glaciers of Iceland.
And the moment we had all hoped for, dreamed of, anticipated, was there, at 17,000 feet above sea level, staring at the seemingly omnipotent north face of the highest peak in the world. I had arrived, and I had only just begun.
Mt. Everest stood majestically, filling the southern sky, and I sat in awe, imagining the steps I would soon be taking toward her 29,035-foot summit.
It seems as though I have, in one way or another, been preparing for such moments of awe and adventure all of my life. A natural progression, I suppose, from growing up on the Kaweah River in Three Rivers with a stuntman father and an Austrian "mountain girl"mother. I spent countless days jumping from cliffs and climbing rocks and mountains.
How fortunate I feel to have experienced such beauty and freedom!
Last October, I discovered a TV show called Global Extremes. An ad in a magazine was "looking for 12 adventurous people willing to take on the elements of the world… vying for a chance to be one of five to go for the top of the world… Mt. Everest!"Hmmm, I thought, sounds like my kind of show!
I applied, along with 700 other thrill-seekers, with hesitation as I felt the odds were against getting on any TV show. Six months and five continents later, I have experienced more than I ever dreamed. I have been challenged, inspired, humbled, and enlightened.
I have learned that "the summit"is a metaphor for what I want out of life, taking each step toward a goal and staying committed.
What’s your SUMMIT?
I am anxious to share my Everest journey and breathtaking (literally) photos with the entire community. Please join me on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m., in the McDowall Auditorium at Three Rivers School for the program.
Petit Pinson spent her childhood in Three Rivers and, when not off on a world-class adventure, resides here in the home where she was raised.
Gunners Mate Justin John Miksch, U.S. Navy, died Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003, in an accident that occurred in the ship’s armory while he was serving aboard the USS Duluth (LPD-6), stationed in San Diego.
Justin was born Oct. 30, 1982, in Fresno. He is the son of Byron Miksch Jr. of Three Rivers and Heather Ruskievicz of Colville, Wash., and the grandson of Byron J. Miksch (1916-2001), a longtime resident of Three Rivers.
In 1995, Justin moved with his sister, Shelby, their mother and stepfather to Colville, Wash. He graduated from Colville High School in June 2001.
Justin was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In January 2003, Justin was onboard the Duluth as it transported the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to the shores of Kuwait. While the 15th MEU fought their way past An Nasiriyah, Iraq, Justin’s ship provided support to several Navy Seal Team units as they captured and secured two Iraqi oil platforms. Two U.S. Coast Guard Harbor Security Units from the West Coast then provided support in protecting the platforms from foreign capture.
The Duluth also processed several hundred Iraqi POWs by giving them medical checkups and attention where needed, the first good meal (of their native food) that many had seen in months, and the right to worship as they chose. They were then transported to POW camps in Kuwait.
Justin’s ship returned the 15th MEU to Camp Pendleton in July.
He will be missed by many. His shipmates have stated that "he was an exceptional man and sailor."
It was Justin’s wish that his organs be donated. Upon his death, several organs were harvested, including his heart.
After cremation, Justin’s remains will be scattered at sea.
In addition to his parents, Justin is survived by his sister, Seaman (E-3) Shelby L. Miksch, USN, who is enrolled in the DLI at Presidio of Monterey where she is learning the Serb and Croat languages. Justin is the nephew of Mary Andrade of Three Rivers.
"Shelby has been devastated by the loss of her brother," said Byron, Justin’s father." Any thoughts and prayers directed her way would be appreciated."
by Amy Dolcourt-McElroy
Scenic byway: A new one-mile walking and bike-riding path in Woodlake winds its way through the heart of the Woodlake Botanical Gardens.
On Saturday, Oct. 25, under a sun that seemed more tropical than autumnal, Woodlake Pride threw open the gates to their demonstration garden, located at Manzanillo and Naranjo streets in Woodlake.
Guests entered under a vine-covered arch and strolled through garden paths lined with a rainbow assortment of cabbages, kales, phlox, peppers, eggplants, sunflowers, artichokes, and more.
Lemony papaya blossoms and varieties of basil scented the air, while tall taro and bananas hid the garden’s secret heart. The field of grass at the center of the garden played host to a gardeners’ convention.
Potted flowers and fresh fruits were available for purchase, while Woodlake Pride displayed chiles, cabbages, and tomatoes.
Other gardeners passed out samples of sugar cane and tamarillo. A Fresno grower exhibited Asian vegetables such as moqua, pea shoots, and snakebean.
An 11:30 a.m. ceremony at the garden’s entrance called attention to the plans now underway for making the permanent, mile-long Woodlake Botanical Gardens a reality.
The first stage, creating the bike and walking paths, was recently completed. The bike path sits at the top of the levee, starting at the Wutchumna Water Company and ending at the garden.
The one-mile walking path skirts the north side of Bravo Lake, stretching from Magnolia Street to Wells Street. This path takes the pedestrian through the heart of what will soon be the Woodlake Botanical Gardens.
The next stage in the project is to install irrigation lines, followed by electrical lines for lighting the garden at night. Within a few months, outdoor enthusiasts should be able to take a scenic stroll seven days a week through the garden.
The garden will start out small and grow larger each year. Within five years, it will stretch the entire mile-long border.
"I think this will put Woodlake on the map," said Jack Ritchie, mayor of Woodlake, during Saturday’s ceremony.
by John Elliott
Last Friday, the Woodlake Tigers (2-1, 5-3) downed the Lindsay Cardinals (0-3, 3-5), 20-13 before a festive Homecoming crowd at Robinson-Painter Memorial Stadium. Lindsay’s offense struggled against a stingy Tiger defense unable to move the ball until midway through the third quarter.
Woodlake jumped out to a 3-0 first-quarter lead on a 47-yard field goal by Jesus Donate.
"That was as good a kick as you will ever see in a high school game," said Brian Costa, Tiger head coach.
In the second quarter, Steven Porras scored on a five-yard run, and Donate caught a 12-yard pass from quarterback Manuel Reynoso. Both Tiger TDs came after Lindsay turnovers.
After halftime, Donate kicked a 30-yard field goal and the Tigers had what appeared to be a comfortable lead. But Lindsay QB Abel Gamboa suddenly found the hot hand and moved the Cardinals up and down the field mostly with sideline passes.
Gamboa, who finished with two touchdown passes, was victimized by Steven Porras who made a critical interception with 5:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. After that stop, the Tiger offense made a key first down on another pass to Donate and held on to win as time expired.
Donate finished with 99 of Woodlake’s 238 yards of total offense. Tyson Tashiro was the game’s leading ball carrier with 67 yards on 16 attempts.
This week, Coach Costa knows that his Tigers will have to turn it up a notch if they are going to beat a powerful Dinuba team. The game at Woodlake is being touted as one of the best match-ups of the season.
"They [Dinuba] thrive on the big pass play and run the ball just to keep the defense honest," Costa said." If we are going to win this week, each player will have to step up and make big plays."
In the JV game, the Tigers blew a 21-14 halftime lead as the Cardinals scored 21 unanswered points. The youthful Tigers were caught shorthanded in the second half as eight players failed to make grades.
The Sequoia League Bengals (7-2), Woodlake’s senior youth football league team, kept right on rolling with a 20-0 victory over the Exeter Cougars.
In the lightweight division, the Reedley Mustangs blanked Woodlake’s Tiger Cubs 14-0. On Saturday, both of the youth football teams conclude their regular seasons with home games vs. Lindsay at Robinson-Painter Memorial Stadium, beginning at 5 and 7 p.m.