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In the News - Friday, November 25, 2011



Giant sequoia falls

in Round Meadow

  When a 2,000 year-old giant sequoia suddenly topples over in Giant Forest, it can be an event of magnanimous proportion. On a rare occurrence in August 1969, a Big Tree fell in the Hazelwood picnic area resulting in a fatality.
   A story with a better ending occurred in 2003. That one involved three tourists who drove most of the night to visit Sequoia National Park. Upon their arrival, they parked along the Generals Highway and scurried into the Giant Forest to take a closer look at the world-famous trees.
   Before they even got five minutes away from their car, they heard a loud cracking and turned back to watch in horror as a falling giant crushed their Jeep Grand Cherokee. Nobody was hurt but all were shaken by the event they had just witnessed and what might have been.
Last week, sometime during the night of November 16 to 17, another giant fell, this time in Round Meadow. On Wednesday, Nov. 16, reports came into the park dispatcher that a giant sequoia was on fire.
   The fire was visible to visitors who reported flames venting from the side of the tree 150 feet from the ground. Last month, the Ash Mountain fire crew had burned the area under what they refer to as a “deliberately cool and wet prescription.”
In a popular visitor area like Round Meadow, the prescribed fire plan called for a low-intensity fire. That particular burn unit received both rain and snow after ignitions were completed on October 23.
   When the trail was opened about a week prior to the tree falling, there were six inches of snow on the ground and no signs of fire anywhere. According to a statement issued earlier this week by Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, fire intensity was not a causal factor.
  “One of the lesser known fire adaptations that sequoias have is that they are nurse trees,” said Deb. “This means that when they die, they create ideal conditions to ensure the continuation of the species. They open swaths in the forest canopy when they fall and the species takes advantage [of the new conditions] for their own germination.”
   Deb continued by saying that if they are consumed by fire they create an amazing bed for their own seeds. The best known example of this process is the Four Guardsmen along the Generals Highway in the Giant Forest. Ecologists theorize that this group was created after a nurse tree was toppled by fire some 2,000 years ago.
   Other groups, like the Parker Group on the Crescent Meadow Road, demonstrate this same principle though somewhat differently. This group is made up of a cluster of trees where the nurse tree collapsed rather than fell over.
   Anyone who visits Giant Forest cannot help but notice all the Big Trees that have toppled over time. It is during frequent visits that a newly fallen giant might be noticed for the very first time.
   For some who know and love these majestic trees, it can be an emotional experience. They also know like all things organic, trees die as a part of the cycle of life. But each time it occurs in the Giant Forest, it is akin to losing an old and dear friend.

NPS seeks input on

historic buildings in Wilsonia

  The National Park Service is currently seeking comments to determine the future of 12 NPS-owned buildings located in the Wilsonia Historic District near Grant Grove. The district, which is comprised of a cabin community, is within the boundaries of Kings Canyon National Park.
   Wilsonia was first listed as a historic district in 1996. Earlier this year, the district listing was expanded to contain landscape elements including meadows and rock outcrops.
   The original nomination (1996) listed 162 contributing structures and 49 non-contributing structures. In an evaluation conducted earlier this year, there are now 139 contributing structures with 73 listed as non-contributors.
   Because of deterioration or remodeling to existing structures, several former contributing buildings have been added to the non-contributors. Among the NPS-owned buildings, of which 10 are cabins and two are outbuildings, park planners are considering how and if these buildings should be maintained.
   The range of alternatives for the NPS structures include but are not limited to rehabilitation for occupancy, stabilization and “mothballing”; and structure removal and restoration of the building site to natural conditions.
   In a historic district, when buildings are contributing elements as are the NPS cabins, the preferred alternative is rehabilitation for use and occupancy. But according to Nancy Hendricks, NPS environmental protection specialist, getting the funding to do the preservation work is a Catch-22.
  “When we request funding for these historic rehabs, they are not given a high priority unless there is already a government use,” Hendricks said. “If the structures are not being used, we can’t get the funding to do the rehab so they can be occupied.”
   It’s a vicious cycle the NPS cannot break without assistance from the public.
Hendricks said in early 2012 there will be a public meeting on Wilsonia so the parks can receive input on what should be specifically done with each of the historic structures.
   For more information log onto http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki or contact Nancy Hendricks at 565-3102.

Some new muscle at
Sierra Subs and Salads

By Brian Rothhammer

  Arnold is in town. We’re not talking about the former Governator or Fred Ziffel‘s famous family member, but the new star at Sierra Subs and Salads. Arnold is a Star Promax panini press.
  “We call the press Arnold because it’s the muscle behind our fresh toasted and grilled sandwiches,” said Allison Milner, who co-owns the popular sandwich shop with her husband, Dane.
  “And it took the muscle of Arnold to get it in here,” said Dane of the 240-pound iron man.
“We can now get you a better sandwich even faster than before,” explained Allison.
   With the old six-sandwich press, two quesadillas would take up the whole grill, leaving other orders waiting. If thick sandwiches shared the grill with thinner ones, they would not grill evenly, so some would wait.
  “With the new double-sided, 12-sandwich press, we have doubled our capacity and can grill different items simultaneously,” continued Allison. 
   While the new press does everything from grilling hot dogs and pastrami to toasting bread and panini sandwiches, Dane and Allison provide the inspiration and skill to transform fresh-baked bread, fine cheeses, and wholesome produce into culinary delights for those on the go, on lunch break, or to take home and enjoy. They even have take-and-bake pizzas.
   The Millners are avid travelers, and the fare at Sierra Subs reflects influences from around the world. Since opening in March 2009, Sierra Subs has been voted “Best of Kaweah Country” three years running in nearly two dozen categories by satisfied customers. They consistently receive five-star ratings on their Yelp reviews.
   So if you’re a hungry traveler, a local resident with a house full of guests who are all turkeyed out, want to try a great Mexican Muffuletta (this week’s special), or simply want to see Arnold in action, Sierra Subs and Salads at 41717 Sierra Drive is the place to be.


Holidays are happier without identity theft

By Kamala D. Harris

  Here are some important tips on how Californians can protect themselves by the ever-growing threat of identity theft when shopping online during this holiday season:
   1. Consider investing in antivirus and anti-spyware software. If you already have antivirus software, be sure to download the latest security updates, as there are new viruses and malicious programs every day.
   2. Use a credit card instead of a debit card. A stolen debit card gives an identity thief a direct line to your bank account, whereas credit cards offer added protection from fraudulent transactions. To be safe, don’t store your credit card numbers online, and review your credit card bills monthly for unauthorized charges.
   3. Make purchases through websites that offer secure connections. When shopping online, choose websites or e-merchants that offer heightened SSL (Secure Socket Layer) security to protect your personal information. Before inputting your phone or credit card number, check your browser’s status bar for an unbroken “padlock” icon, which indicates the site uses SSL. Also, because most email accounts are not secure, it’s best not to send payment information in an email.
   4. Watch what you post online. The Internet has made it easy to store and share information, but we should be careful when sharing personal information online. Avoid posting addresses and phone numbers on social networking sites, or storing credit card information and passwords in your email account.
   5. Strengthen all your passwords and PINs. With so many passwords and personal identification numbers to remember these days, it’s tempting to use a birthday, child’s name, consecutive numbers, or other predictable passwords or PINs. Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols to protect your shopping and email accounts with the strongest possible passwords.
   6. Talk to your kids about the dangers of online shopping. Children are often so comfortable and confident online they don’t think they need to take special precautions. And identity thieves know this; kids are among their prime targets. Supervise your kids’ online shopping and talk to them about keeping their information secure.
   7. Shop at trusted websites. Everyone wants to find the best deals when shopping online, but be cautious when using unfamiliar websites. When shopping at a site that is new or unfamiliar, review customer reviews and Better Business Bureau listings to check the site’s legitimacy.
   8. Be wary of fake online stores. Many online scammers steal personal information by redirecting shoppers to fake web pages that look like the checkout pages of legitimate shopping sites. To avoid these traps, be careful what links you click. Set your browser to block pop-up windows, and make sure you type in the store’s web address into your browser window instead of clicking links from email or other websites.
   9. Guard your Social Security number. There’s no reason for an online shopping site to request your Social Security number to make a routine purchase.
   Kamala D. Harris is the State of California’s attorney general.

A fashion show to remember

  Members of the Three Rivers Woman’s Club and their guests enjoyed their November get-together immensely due to the highly anticipated fashion show that each year reveals some of the garments and accessories that are currently available at The Thingerie. This is an annual event that features beautiful models all decked out in the latest fashions from The Thingerie.
   Fashion coordinator Mary Hohne assisted in the organization of the unique outfits picked from the extensive and exclusive Thingerie thrift store designs. This exceptional thrift store is organized and operated by many members of the Woman’s Club.
   The club’s own chic and sophisticated models — Mary Scharn, Polly Kelch, Mary Hohne, Peggy Huddleston, Danielle Witt, and Judy Smith — sported clothing that included a variety of fashion trends and coordinates, all from The Thingerie.
   The show-stopping guest appearances by three super models, Stephanie (Stan Huddleston), Jacquelyn (Jack Nielsen), and Petra (Pete Lippire) entertained and delighted the audience as they each strutted their eye-catching fashions and pencil-thin figures.
   Mary Hohne and Pat Crain are instrumental in keeping The Thingerie running smoothly on a regular basis. Their time and efforts make it happen along with Wilma Kauling, The Thingerie treasurer, and Cindy Howell, who keeps the work schedule flowing.
   The next meeting of the club is Wednesday, Dec. 7, 1 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building. Everyone is invited to join us for a Christmas musical program with endless Christmas cheer!
   For more information, call Bev at 561 - 3601.

Hard work and custom creations at The Ant Hill

By Lisa Lieberman

  The Ant Hill in Three Rivers is located on Highway 198 next to the Cort Gallery. It is owned and operated by Gene Vasquez and his two sons, Gene Jr. and Carlos.
   The three artisans make ants and other animals by welding metal, rock, and glass along with a plethora of other materials together.
  “We picked the name ‘Ant Hill’ because ants are all very hard workers,” said Gene Sr.
Ants are one of the few creatures on earth — relative to their own body weight — that can lift more weight than any other animal. Ants, which make up 15 to 25 percent of the earth’s terrestrial animal biomass, are also some of the hardest, most organized and complex workers that exist.
   Ants have soldiers that protect the queen, food foragers, nannies that care for the baby ants, and fighter ants that protect the colony. There are even “farmer” ants that grow fungi for food, highway robber ants that steal food from other ants, and mercenaries that attack enemy colonies, taking their eggs and making the new ants from the enemy colony into “slaves.”
   In many ways, ants are a lot like humans — for better and for worse —which may be one of the reasons humans have always been fascinated by them. It may also be why the Vasquezes chose to call their little artisan shop “The Ant Hill.”
   But the “ants” at The Ant Hill aren’t just hardworking. They’re also whimsical and fun. Some of the ant sculptures play golf, while others fish, play musical instruments, or patriotically hold up American flags.
   Some ants — just like in real life — are destructive. There’s one sculpture of a sunflower where three ants are working at hacking the sunflower down. One ant uses a chainsaw, another uses an axe, while a third uses a machete.
   But most of the ants are fun-loving. There’s even an “ant playground” with ants playing see-saw, riding an actual spinning merry-go-round, climbing up slides, and swinging on real-life, ant-sized swings.
  “Sometimes people buy these sets for their children,” said Gene Sr., who was inspired to build the “ant playground” for some of his newborn grandchildren.
   In addition to ant sculptures, the Vasquezes also make peacock, ostrich, turtle, monkey, rattlesnake, and mouse sculptures in various poses. There is a metal sculpture of a frog wearing a sombrero, peacefully playing the guitar, who, just in case he runs into trouble, has two pistols holstered at his waist.
   Gene Sr., who moved to Three Rivers with his family six years ago and works for L.M. Jules Construction, created a small workshop near his house to make sculptures in his spare time and to keep his two boys “out of trouble,” he explained.
   Although a few of his customers are local, many of his customers are tourists.
  “The problem is that sometimes people are going by so fast, it’s hard for them to stop,” he said.
   Irene Barba of Three Rivers, a former teacher of Gene Jr.’s when he attended Exeter High School, said she couldn’t help herself last spring from buying one of Gene Jr’s. coiled rattlesnakes and a “grave-digger” ant to haul away the “dead” bodies.
  “The good thing about these rattlesnakes is that you can bring them in your house,” said Gene Sr. “You don’t need to be afraid of them.”
   Prices range anywhere $10 to $375 per sculpture. Generally it takes anywhere from two to three hours to four days to complete a sculpture, depending on its complexity. One sculpture, a six-foot giraffe made completely out of metal, took four days to finish.
   Gene Sr.’s younger brother, who lives in Riverside is the “real master,” he said, who taught him the art of welding and sculpting. The brother also makes life-size sculptures of elephants, dinosaurs, and dragons.
   Any of these sculptures will make great Christmas presents. The shop is open most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To make an appointment or a custom order, call 359-3951.
   Lisa Lieberman is a freelance writer who works from her Three Rivers home.


  WHAT TO WEAR. The morning of the event is forecast to be rather chilly. Dress in layers. The first layer will be to keep you warm while standing around waiting for the run/walk to begin. Peel that off before the starting gun is fired.
   The general rule for running is to dress as though it’s 15 degrees warmer than the thermometer is reading. The 10K course at Lake Kaweah is a challenge because the runner will be more prone to cold on the return route due to a stiff headwind that is usually present from mile three to five. Also, mile one and mile six will be in the shade.
   It is best to wear moisture-wicking material, but if a cotton T-shirt is your garment of choice, then make sure that you have a sweatshirt to put on at the finish line (and preferably change out of the T-shirt as soon as possible if it is soaked with sweat to avoid getting chilled).
   WHAT TO EAT. For a 10K run or shorter, it’s best to stick with the routine you have already established for your workouts. If it works for you to eat breakfast beforehand, then do it. If you don’t normally eat before heading out in the morning, then race day is not the day to start.
   If you wish to fuel before leaving home, it’s best to eat two hours before the start time. A bagel, oatmeal, or any other easily digestible food is best. Avoid high fiber foods and protein-rich foods as they tend to stay in the intestines longer and may cause gastric distress.
   If you wish to fuel just before the race, a gel, sport beans, a sports drink, banana, or any other fast-acting, carbohydrate-laden snack of no more than 100 calories is best.
   The day before the event, pay close attention to hydration. Don’t overdo it or step too far out of your routine, but drinking water is important in anticipation of exertion. Within an hour after the run, make sure to replenish with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein; something as simple as fruit and nuts will do.
   I find that I always have more energy for running after a holiday meal because I tend to eat more simple carbohydrates, including sugar, than I normally allow myself. This event could be perfect timing for that new personal best on the course or for at least burning off some of those Thanksgiving calories. HAPPY RUNNING! —sbe


Meadows, mosquitoes, and mountain memories

By Sarah Elliott

  This is part six in a series about an eight-day backpacking trip embarked upon this past August in Sequoia National Park.

   The days that we stay put are always memorable. It is gratifying to walk so far with everything we need on our backs and be able to set up a comfortable home in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We were at the third and largest of the Big Five Lakes.
   With nighttime low temperatures in the 30s, it’s easy to remain in the tent until the sun rises over the eastern peaks. But that’s not to say that’s what we all did.
   John and Jimmy were up at daybreak to fish. They were met with success and brought back three decent-sized golden trout.
   Wild onions were gathered from a bog of standing snowmelt located disturbingly close to our camp. This was where the mosquitoes were breeding that were being such a nuisance, and this pond wouldn’t be going away this year. Neither would the mosquitoes.
   We were happy for our decision to stay at Big Five Lakes where campfires are allowed because the smoke keeps the mosquitoes somewhat at bay. No fires are allowed in the Little Five Lakes basin.
   The trout were wrapped in the pungent onions and cooked over the fire. We enjoyed a hot, protein-rich breakfast.
   Our excursion for the day would take us to Big Five Lake number four. There used to be an easy trail that hugged the northern shores of lakes numbers three and four, but two hard winters left a lot of downed debris and an avalanche provided full-grown trees ripped from the ground as obstacles.
   After several detours and climbing up, over, and around the downed trees, we reached the fourth lake. We crossed the outlet creek and settled in at a sunny spot on the granite bench that makes up this lake’s southern shore.
   After lunch, Jimmy became restless and started eyeing the ridgeline at the west end of the Big Five Lakes cirque, an off-trail route unofficially known as Hands and Knees Pass.
   I can understand how Jimmy was feeling. This was his first trip into the Sierra backcountry, yet he adapted so well that he now realizes there are more Sierra sights to see than years in our lifetimes. I struggle with that same dilemma.
   He announced that he was heading to the pass. Jennie and I were so comfortable, lounging in the sun on this beautiful 70-degree day, that we turned down his offer to join him. But as Jennie watched Jimmy walk away, she muttered under her breath, scrambled to her feet, grabbed a water bottle, and stomped off to join him on his quest to reach the 11,000-plus-foot pass.
   For the next couple of hours, I was happy to gaze upon the pristine alpine wonderland that encompassed me while intermittently reading my book. Later, I found a protected cove and took my daily cleansing swim.
   John fished for most of the day, but later took my lead and entered the icy water to rinse off. Then he headed to Big Five number five to filter water.
I soon followed, walking on a flat granite slab that makes up most of the terrain on this side of the lake. Wherever there was a rift in the rock, a foxtail pine or stunted lodgepole pine took advantage of the root-hold to eke out an existence in this harsh landscape.
   The fifth Big Five Lake is barely a puddle some years as it exists solely due to snowmelt. However, on this warm, late August day, it was still surrounded by snow with even some bergs floating.
   If I wasn’t certain I was in Sequoia National Park, Calif., I could have easily mistaken this landscape for Alaska. The water around the snowfield was gleaming an icy turquoise, and a chunk of snow broke off and splashed into the tarn.
   Jennie and Jimmy were back within three hours with tales of extraordinary views in this amazing Range of Light. From the pass, they saw Spring, Cyclamen, and Columbine lakes, Empire Mountain, Sawtooth and Mineral peaks, and in the distance, Homers Nose and Moro Rock.
   It is a physical test to reach these spectacular, yet remote destinations, but amazing discovery always awaits those willing to put in the effort.
   We returned to our camp and were savoring dinner, highlighted by the main entree of trout, as another incredible High Sierra sunset glowed pink on the surrounding summits.
   However, the warm, sunny day we had just so fully experienced didn’t offer a single clue as to what was headed our way the following day.


Laura Olson
1964 ~ 2011

   Laura Lynne Olson, a former resident of Three Rivers for 14 years, died of cancer Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. She was 47.
   Laura was born May 9, 1964, in Bakersfield. She was raised and educated in Hanford, graduating from Hanford High School in 1982.
   Laura was a talented cosmetologist and a partner in the former Cutting Room hair salon before taking over full ownership. Two years ago, she opened a salon adjacent to her home on Sierra Drive and named it Reflections.
   She was a member of St. Clair’s Catholic Church. Laura moved to Woodlake in August for the sole reason of having a home closer to her daughter’s school; McKenzie is currently a freshman at Woodlake High School.
   Laura was preceded in death by two of her sisters, Kathy and Cindy Olson, and grandparents Mary and Reginald Arevalo.
   She is survived by her children, son Jordan, 20, and daughter McKenzie, 14; her mother, Julie Stott of Woodlake; father and stepmother James and Mary Olson of Prather; and sister Terri Hurst and niece Kaci Hurst of Stockton. Laura is also survived by her step-siblings, Jackie Esquivel, Mike Sims, and Jon Sims, all of Clovis; and many aunts, uncles, and cousins.
A memorial service was held Friday, Nov. 18, at St. Anthony Retreat Center in Three Rivers.   The family requests that remembrances be made to the Laura Olson Memorial Fund at the Three Rivers branch of Bank of the Sierra.

Knox Nicholson
1929 ~ 2011

   Knox W. Nicholson of Exeter died Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. He was 82.
   Knox was born June 12, 1929, in Visalia to Knox W. Nicholson Sr. and Hazel DeMasters Nicholson. Knox attended Visalia Union High School and, in 1951, graduated from the University of California at Davis.
   Following his college graduation, Knox enlisted in the U.S. Navy’s flight program. After serving and training in Florida, Knox returned to Visalia and embarked on what would become his lifelong career, farming.
   He loved farming, building and flying airplanes, and spending time with his furry, four-legged friends.
   Knox is survived by his wife, Jody, of Exeter and a former resident of Three Rivers; daughters Stephanie Oates and husband Richard of Vacaville, Cindy Felts and husband Bob of Visalia, Wendy Nicholson of Ventura, and Stacy Eckstrom and husband Dan of Ventura.   He also leaves his stepchildren (who were raised in Three Rivers), Susan Champagne of Pittsburg, Calif.; Glenn Champagne and wife Linda of Visalia; Kim Glaum and husband Dan of Stevens Point, Wisc.; and Lynn McAuliffe and husband Jeff of Moraga; 15 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother Jim Nicholson and wife Sybil of Bridport, Tasmania.
   A celebration of Knox’s life was held Monday, Nov. 21, at the Runway Cafe, located at the Woodlake Airport.
   Remembrances in Knox’s memory may be made to the UCSF Alzheimer’s and Memory Center, 3313 N. Hilliard Lane, Fresno, CA 93726, or the Kaweah Delta Hospice, 900 W. Oak St., Visalia, CA 93291.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
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