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In the News - Friday, OCTOBER 7, 2005


Community planning

done from afar

Local priorities being

determined by county

   There are a growing number of residents concerned that they are not in the loop when it comes to decision-making that will affect the future of Three Rivers. At least that’s the consensus of the board of the Three Rivers Village Foundation.
   The new advocacy group, which was founded last year, now has nearly 100 members but is still searching for an identity as a viable player in the community-planning process.

  “Unlike some other groups, we don’t have any other agenda than to do something positive for the community,” said Roy Franson, who moved to Three Rivers to retire several years ago and is now a Foundation board member. “To accomplish our goals, we need to have input from the community and more communication with the county.”
   Tom Sparks, a spokesperson for the Foundation and an elected member of the Three Rivers Community Services District board, said the role of groups like this are especially important now that the county has put the local community plan on hold.

  “There is no funding in the current budget for completion of the Three Rivers portion of the community plan, so it remains an unfinished document,” Sparks said. “Without a plan in place, we are very concerned how growth and development will occur in our community.”
   At a recent meeting in Three Rivers, Supervisor Allen Ishida said it is important that the Three Rivers community come to some consensus on key planning issues like a village center, the protection of the river, noise and light pollution, and how and where development is appropriate.

  “Issues like water quality are so important that they just might dictate if you have any growth at all,” Ishida said.
   Sparks agreed that it is frustrating when there is no one group or advisory council that can gather information and then let the county know the concerns that Three Rivers may have relative to certain issues or proposals. After looking into what went wrong on the failed rest-stop/visitor center, he said his group is convinced that the way to go is to pursue a scenic-highway designation for Sierra Drive.

  “A scenic-highway program is the path we’ve been given by Caltrans if we want to use more of the transportation enhancement (TEA) funding that has been made available in the past,” Sparks said. “The designation ensures a standard of quality and imposes some restrictions against ugliness that occurs when development proceeds haphazardly.”
   Sparks said there are lots of communities with haphazard development and what the Village Foundation is advocating is “smart growth.” His group is currently putting together a volunteer scenic-highway task force that will work for three to four years on a process that would culminate in an official designation.
   But some actions are needed now, Sparks said, because he knows of at least two new proposed developments that are seeking permits for Sierra Drive businesses. One is the new Three Rivers Mercantile down-canyon from the old county fire station and the other is a wedding/special events facility that is being proposed for a riverfront property on the highway near the Old Three Rivers Drive junction.

  “We’re not opposed to these projects but we think some sort of public forum would be desirable where county planners and applicants could inform local residents as to their plans,” Sparks said. “The best way to do these projects is to keep the community up to date.”
   For any local groups to be effective, they will need the cooperation of Supervisor Ishida. He is scheduled to be in Three Rivers next Wednesday evening for the quarterly gathering of the Three Rivers/Lemon Cove Business Association.
Ishida is always willing to answer questions and listen to the concerns of Three Rivers. He may be reached at 733-6271.

Burglary sounds

seasonal alarm

   Living in a small foothill community like Three Rivers, most locals will reveal that at this time of year it just doesn’t get any better. It’s quiet, the air quality is good, it’s cool at night and most of the day, but still pleasantly warm in the afternoons.

Case in point
   But along with the ideal weather, it seems that the change in season also brings criminals who annually target Three Rivers homes and businesses when children are back in school and most locals are in an off-season routine. One law-enforcement officer, who formerly patrolled Three Rivers regularly, said that some summer visitors who come to the area to swim and party at the river look around and remember Three Rivers as easy pickings.

  “There are always a few bad guys who sooner or later think a Three Rivers heist would be a pushover,” the former deputy said. “The reality of the situation is that most of the folks who live here are way too trusting and, without thinking, they are actually encouraging the criminal types to give it a try.”

Post-summer break-in
   Burglaries are not a novelty in rural communities and they do occur in Three Rivers.
   The most recent one happened on Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, at a Kaweah River Drive residence. According to the victim, a person or persons broke into his residence and stole photographic equipment including a large format camera, two boxes of checks, three cast-iron horse heads, leather jackets, a knife collection, and a .38 Special revolver.
   The victim estimated the value of the losses at more than $16,000.

  “Last Friday, somebody tried to cash two of the checks at a Kragen Auto Parts store in Visalia,” the victim said. “The detective told me that after a suspect was unable to cash the second check, they left the scene in a green Ford van.”
   At least one witness reported seeing a green van in Three Rivers the morning of the burglary. A vehicle matching the same description was traced to a Woodlake location but so far no suspects have been arrested.
   Anyone with information about a break-in or who sees a suspicious vehicle or activity in Three Rivers is asked to call Detective Martin King, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, 740-4355.

CDF contract

under review

   Everybody knows that breaking up is hard to do, but imagine ending a relationship that has been going strong for 70 years.
   At a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 3, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors heard from Gary Gilbert, a former CDF fire chief who was hired in March as a consultant, say that breaking up, or in this case creating a new Tulare County fire department, may be one of two viable alternatives to alleviate current budget woes. The other, he said, would be to continue the long-standing relationship but make some important changes.
   Gilbert’s statements were part of his findings contained in a 44-page report that he prepared outlining more cost-effective ways to furnish fire protection for the unincorporated areas of Tulare County.
   The fire consultant’s report revealed that if Tulare County ended its current contract with the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and created a new fire department there could be a savings of approximately $1 million annually. That figure represents nearly 10 percent of the CDF’s $11.7 million bill for 2004 and 2005.
   Tulare County barely survived a $1.5 million shortfall earlier this year, so the decision-makers are certainly open for suggestions. By eliminating two battalion chief positions and paid firefighters at five stations, the CDF’s Amador Plan continued to provide an adequate level of service under the current contract.
   But Gilbert, who is also currently a Madera County supervisor, says the rising costs of the CDF service are far outstripping the increase in any services. After hearing Gilbert summarize his findings, the supervisors directed Brian Haddix, Tulare County administrative officer, to form a committee that would include Tulare County Fire Chief Steve Sunderland, a couple of local supervisors, and several other key players.
   The committee will study the county’s options and report to the Board of Supervisors in December on preferred alternatives. Sunderland also made some recommendations as to whether or not the county opts to continue its CDF contract.
   One of these recommendations is that fire personnel should cut down on the number of medical aid calls. More than 65 percent of all calls, he said, are medical-related and ambulances could handle them.
   But these cuts could have dire consequences for outlying areas like Three Rivers that depend on firefighters as first responders.
   Local volunteer ambulance personnel in Three Rivers have been telling Tulare County officials for years that the only way to alleviate the inconsistent coverage in the foothills is to implement a paramedic ambulance service countywide.
   Currently, it’s unknown how changes in the Tulare County Fire Department would affect Three Rivers. Under the Amador model, CDF firefighters remain on-call at the Three Rivers fire station with assistance of local paid-call firefighters (PCF).
   Nearing the end of a rather routine fire season, Three Rivers received more than adequate service this summer. At several recent fires, CDF personnel responded immediately and prevented small flare-ups from becoming big disasters.
   But there were some obvious problems with all the new personnel handling local calls. Paid-call firefighters (PCFs), who were standing by during the Three Rivers fire calls, were “toned out.”
   That means that the beepers of the local firefighters, who could have arrived on the scene within minutes, were not paged, letting the PCFs know that there was a fire in progress. Only CDF personnel responded initially at two recent local fires and, fortunately, neither call turned out to be a major emergency.
   According to one local PCF, who asked not to be identified, the oversight was inadvertent and happened because new personnel had not been advised that they were supposed to summon PCFs.
   After the most recent incident last Saturday, when Three Rivers firefighters responded to a call on Kaweah River Drive, Chief Sunderland informed dispatchers that PCFs should be summoned in all areas where they are available.

  “The new chief [Sunderland] is really the right guy to take on a very difficult job,” said one Three Rivers PCF. “He’s a Tulare County guy who understands what it takes to do the job. He appreciates the role of the PCFs and has been very supportive of our organizations throughout the county.”

Mineral King

prescribed fire begins

   Fire crews began ignitions on the first phase of the “Highbridge Prescribed Fire” in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. Crews planned to complete approximately 450 acres of the 1,517-acre project yesterday (Thursday, Oct. 6).
   Depending on weather, fire managers estimate that the remaining two-thirds of the project will be ignited within a week or two.
   The fire is located north of the Mineral King Road and the community of Silver City. No roads, trails, or facilities will be closed.
   The fire will be lit by dropping ignition devices called “fusees” out of a helicopter.
   The section of the prescribed fire that was ignited this week is near the top of the ridge between 8,800 feet and 10,000 feet elevation. This effort will create a “black line” or burned area that will help crews hold the fire when the rest of the project is ignited.
Since most of the Highbridge project area has not burned since the park was established, the fire will reduce fuels and restore the natural role of fire to the landscape.

  “This project is also an important step in reducing the threat of wildfire near the community of Silver City,” said David Allen, Sequoia district fire management officer and burn boss for this project.

Pot growers commit arson
   A fire reported by a Forest Service lookout on Tuesday, Oct. 4, was determined to be intentionally started by marijuana growers who had an illegal garden in the vicinity.
   In fact, firefighters were delayed in suppressing the fire because the area had to first be secured by law-enforcement personnel due to the illegal activity.
   The fire was in the Wishon Canyon area of the Tule River Ranger District. About 2,500 plants with a street value of more than $10 million were eradicated.

Valley smog levels

on the decline

   Following all the bad news about air quality in the local parks this summer, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District announced last week that summer smog levels are actually improving. In fact, they say the improvement is dramatic in the last three years and they know one of the reasons why.
   Officials attribute at least some of the improvement to Valley residents taking to heart well-publicized "Spare the Air" tips such as driving less, carpools, decreasing the use of gasoline power tools, and voluntarily making behavior changes when unhealthy air quality is in the forecast.
   Spare the Air is a voluntary emission-reduction program that targets ozone formation, or smog, and is coordinated by the Air District each summer from June through late-September.
   In 2005, Tulare County had approximately the same amount of Spare the Air days (18) as it did last season but has significantly improved on 2003 when there were 39 unhealthful days (a reading of 151 or higher). District-wide, which encompasses an eight-county area, the 18 days this season is down from 41 in 2003.

  “We’re seeing continued improvement in summertime air quality,” said Jaime Holt, the district’s education administrator.
   This week’s readings for Tulare County, based on atmospheric conditions and historical data, are predicted to be in the moderate range (50 or above). However, the observed readings remained in the good range for three of the days suggesting that the high price of gas might have had the effect of reduced emissions giving Valley lungs a little more breathing room.

Roadside attractions


Settling in Three Rivers a century ago

By Sarah Elliott

   There were houses built before it, but none have outlasted the ranch house on North Fork Drive that was built in 1880. And, In that time, the oldest home in Three Rivers, located at the confluence of the Kaweah River’s Middle and North forks, has been owned by just two families — the Bartons, then the Pierces.

   On April 30, 1865, the Barton family left Davenport, Iowa, and began their 2000-mile journey by covered wagon across the plains.
James and Susan Barton and their nine children — ranging in age from 22 years to nine months — arrived September 6 in the California mining town of Columbia, where they met up with James’s younger brother, Stephen, who had come West in 1854.
   The Bartons stayed in the Mother Lode mining region for just a month before heading south to Visalia. In his possession, James had a land grant for 120 acres that had been given to his father in partial payment for his service in the War of 1812.
   Upon location of the parcel, situated west of Elderwood, son Hudson later said: “A poorer piece of ground we couldn’t have found.”
   The family then homesteaded in the Auckland area, in the foothills north of present-day Elderwood. It was here where their 11th child (one had died childhood), Milton Montgomery “Mont” Barton, was born on Feb. 14, 1867.
   James and Susan later moved to Three Rivers after their son, Orlando (1847-1917), had acquired some property on the North Fork in 1878. They lived in a log cabin along the North Fork river near present-day Kaweah River Drive until they completed their ranch house in 1880.
   James was a member of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors for 17 years. He would walk from Three Rivers to attend the meetings in Visalia.
   In 1888, Mont married Harriet “Hattie” DeMasters. The Barton house and 120 acres was subsequently deeded to Mont.
   On Sept. 16, 1910, Mont was tragically killed while installing the first electric irrigation pumps in the area for the Elderwood Citrus Development Company, owned in part by his brother, Jason. The commercial use of electricity was largely untried and Mont’s electrocution was caused by a lethal combination of water, electrical lines, and a misinterpreted signal that caused a switch to be thrown too soon.
   He was the first person to be buried in the newly-created Three Rivers Cemetery.
   Susan Barton died Jan. 19, 1912, on the couple’s 69th wedding anniversary, at the age of 88. Less than eight months later, on Sept. 1, 1912, James died at the age of 93 at his beloved Three Rivers ranch.
   Both are buried in the Three Rivers Cemetery.
   Hattie and her youngest of four children, daughter Lois, left the Three Rivers ranch and resided in Elderwood. In 1920, when Lois was 12, they moved to San Jose where Hattie felt she could ensure a better education for her daughter.
   Lois was the first in the family to graduate college, earning a master’s degree in chemistry from Stanford University.
   James and Susan Barton are my great-great-grandparents. They are the first of what has now been six generations of Bartons to reside in Three Rivers, all on land originally owned by them or their children.
                                                         * * *
   The next owners of this historic ranch house were James and Julia Pierce, beginning in 1911. Today, the property continues to be owned by Pierce descendants.
   Next week: Memoirs of life on the ranch, as written by James and Julia’s granddaughter, Juanita Tolle.
   Juanita spent her adolescent years on the ranch, from 1932 to 1945, and describes in detail life there before electricity and indoor plumbing.


Tigers tamed by Dinuba

   With minus-four yards in offense at halftime, there was no doubt that the Woodlake Tigers (0-1, 1-3) faced an uphill struggle to get the momentum back in last Friday’s game. But on the first series of the second half, and even being down 28-0 to the Dinuba Emperors (1-0, 2-2), Woodlake showed signs that they could turn the tide and get on the scoreboard.
   The Tigers offense mixed a couple of runs with some pinpoint passing and suddenly the Tigers had the ball first down and goal at the Emperors five-yard line. Everyone in Robinson-Painter Stadium expected the Tigers to use a play or two and smash the ball into the end zone, using the power offense that had been so impressive the week before against Strathmore.
   Instead, on the very next play, Ryan Baker, junior QB threw a pass to the corner of the end zone that was picked off, one of three interceptions that Dinuba had on the night. Perhaps a quick strike was the right call but on this night it simply led to another half of futility.

  “In all honesty, they were quicker than us, and when our line did open a hole, a Dinuba defender was there waiting for our running back,” said Mike Payne, a Tiger assistant coach. “There just wasn’t time for any of our plays to develop.”
   The Tigers finished the night with 65 yards of total offense; five fumbles, and couldn’t stop the Emperors, who scored at least one TD in all four quarters. When the final gun sounded, the Emperors had their first league win, 49-0.
   Coach Payne also said that Dinuba’s big, strong QB, Nathaniel Lester, who had not been their starter in three previous games, was a senior southpaw that was impossible to stop.

  “To Dinuba’s credit, Lester and his ability to scramble really caused us some serious problems on defense,” Payne said.
   Lester finished the night with 139 yards of passing, 45 yards rushing, and two touchdowns, one on a 19-yard run and one on a 75-yard pass play.
   This Friday, Woodlake travels to Grizzlies Stadium in Fresno for an East Sequoia League match-up with rival Immanuel. It’s an interesting place to play a football game but the dirt infield can be treacherous footing and fans are seated a lot farther away from the action than at most high school fields.
   In the JV game, the Emperors overpowered a much younger Tiger team, 28-14.

  “It was a game that we could have won by that same score,” said Larry Arroyo, the Tiger JV head coach.
   The loss evened the JV’s record at 2-2.

Fall ball and foot races

   Cross Country— On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Woodlake hosted the season’s first ESL meet at Lake Kaweah. The Tiger boys finished first overall. Woodlake’s Javier Ceballos ran the three-mile course in 17:12. That time was good enough for second place overall as Tiger runners finished in fourth (Gilbert Flores), seventh (Joseph Spahn), and 10th (Jacobo Villasenor) for the win.
   Exeter girls won team honors. Best finisher among the Lady Tigers was Damaris Mendoza who finished seventh.
   This Saturday, Oct. 8, Woodlake hosts its annual Invitational at the Lake Kaweah course. Because of its unique setting and mountain scenery, the event is quickly becoming one of the premier events of the season. For start times call 564-3307.
   Girls’ Tennis— On Tuesday, Woodlake continued an impressive run in girls’ tennis with a solid win at Orosi. Woodlake was led by the No. 1 singles play of sophomore Priscilla Ruiz. The Lady Tigers won five of six singles matches. The victory raised the Tiger record to 6-3 in league play and 8-4 overall.
   Volleyball— Woodlake won a three-set match at Orosi on Tuesday, raising their league record to 4-1. They were led in scoring and digs by seniors Kaitlin Beck and Sonni Fultz. Only the undefeated Exeter Monarchs (5-0), powered by Tiffany Marinos of Three Rivers, and the Immanuel Eagles, who beat Woodlake on September 22, stand in the way of an ESL title shot for a rapidly improving Lady Tigers team.

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