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In the News - Friday, DECEMBER 14, 2007

70 YEARS AGO

The flood of December 1937


‘It was a dark and stormy night…’

   This is how Jim Barton, 83, of Three Rivers started his tale of intrigue, adventure and, at times, sheer terror. And, he guaranteed, “it’s really true.”
   Jim relived the flood during a presentation he gave at the Three Rivers Historical Society’s Living History Day last month. He was 13 years old and in the eighth grade at Three Rivers School when the Flood of 1937 occurred.
   He lived with his parents and younger brother on North Fork Drive about one-half mile up from the present-day North Fork Bridge. The house that his father, Bob Barton, built is still there, on a knoll on the left side of the road just beyond the Barton pasture.
   Jim explained that on a Thursday night that December 70 years ago, he and friends went to Lodgepole to the skating rink. But it was raining even at that elevation, meaning no ice for skating, so they returned home.
   It continued to rain for two more days and two more nights. The warm rain was filling the river while melting the snowpack in the high country.
   By Saturday, all this water could no longer fit within the rivers’ banks. Jim remembers watching the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and its crest that was at about 12 feet.
   By this time, the river had crossed North Fork Drive above the Barton ranch and flooded their pasture. To this day, there is still a sandbar and river rocks there.
   The river flowed down North Fork Drive until it turned back toward its original channel across from the present-day Flora Bella Farm driveway where, Jim noted, three houses stand today.
   As local folks are known to do during a flood event, they began to watch the bridges. As Jim and his family gathered at the North Fork Bridge, two young men — Orlen “Baldy” Loverin and Fred Gimm — drove onto the threatened structure from the North Fork side in Loverin’s 1934 Chevrolet coupe. Jim remembers his grandfather, Jason Barton, advising the two not to attempt the crossing.
   They didn’t heed the warning and continued onto the bridge and across the river. Upon reaching the highway side, they realized that the approach was gone, so they backed the car toward the North Fork side.
   But now the water was too deep at this approach and they were stranded. The men were able to get off the bridge by hanging onto a barbed wire fence while fording the raging water, but the car had to stay.
   Jim recalled later that Saturday that a ripple in the water was the only indication of where the car was because it was now completely submerged. The North Fork Bridge, a wooden truss structure built in 1906, and the car washed away soon after.
   Early the next morning, the rain had subsided and Jim headed out, anxious to explore. He walked downriver, looking for the bridge, also knowing there should be a car in the river.
   On the Thorn Ranch — beyond where the present-day North Fork Bridge stands — he found the section of bridge with the car still on it! He said the car was pretty banged up, but had landed upright back on the bridge, it’s tires still on the runner planks. He also mentioned that Baldy later got that car running again.
   The post-and-timber bridge had been anchored by four steel cylinders filled with concrete. The two cylinders on the highway side washed completely away and came to rest, along with some other pieces of the bridge, in a swimming hole (across from today’s Pat O’Connell Towing) known then as the “Old Twenty.” That, Jim said, was the end of that swimming hole.
   As for the other bridges, the concrete bridge where the highway crossed the South Fork collapsed in the center. The Dinely Bridge washed away.
   The approaches to the Pumpkin Hollow Bridge (Gateway), built in 1923, were destroyed but the bridge held strong. The Airport Bridge and the upper North Bridge survived, and Jim couldn’t recall what happened at the upper South Fork bridges.
   Seventy years ago, there was no Kaweah River Drive. The road ended at the Taylor Ranch, just beyond the Three Rivers Airport, which had just opened two years before.
   At the Taylor Ranch, there was a private bridge that connected this area with the main highway. It was built in two sections, Jim said, connecting at an island in the middle of the river.
   This bridge also washed out, leaving North Fork residents stranded. Immediately, Jack Hill, a county road foreman who lived on what is today the Anjelica Huston ranch, took his bulldozer to the Taylor Ranch and “scratched out” a road up to Dinely Drive. This route later became Kaweah River Drive, built originally so North Fork residents would always have an alternate entrance and exit route.
   Jim recalled that a temporary plank bridge on the highway across the South Fork was also soon installed, so the town was not cut off from civilization for long.
   The North Fork span took a little longer until cars could have ingress and egress, but people were accommodated by a cable and trolley system. A person would sit on a swing board, place their possessions in an orange box dangling from it, and pull themselves across and over the river.
   The national news picked up on this story of ingenuity, Jim said. It’s difficult to imagine sending a child off to school by having them sit on a plank suspended over the swift-moving river, but this is what the North Fork schoolchildren did until the swinging bridge was erected.
   Jim reported that this walking bridge was installed in time for Three Rivers School’s Christmas program as he remembers being on it in the dark with his entire family.
   The new North Fork Bridge opened to traffic sometime in 1938. The bridge was located behind where the Three Rivers Market center is today and remained in use until it washed away in the Flood of 1955.

Seasonal weather

means rain, snow

   While much of the nation’s midsection shivers in the aftermath of an unprecedented ice storm, the dissipating energy from that system will cause rain in the south and some significant snowfall to the mid-Atlantic region. Closer to home, in the southern Sierra and central San Joaquin Valley, seasonal conditions will continue throughout the weekend with some snow and rain possible by as early as Monday evening.
   Weather forecasters remain clueless if this season will bring above-average precipitation to Kaweah County like the 2005-2006 season, or will we experience a rapid drying out after January 2008? The recent round of Pacific storms that traveled through Central California during December 6 through 8 dumped at least two inches of rainfall in the Three Rivers environs.
   In the high country around 7,000 feet, most areas received 14 to 18 inches of new snow, and with the ensuing cold spell, it is not likely to be doing much melting. In a report from the new Alta Ski Shop at Wuksachi Lodge, conditions are good for snowshoeing but another round of snow is needed to set up the pack for cross-country skiing.
   One Wuksachi commuter reported some treacherous road conditions as last week’s storminess made its way up and over the Great Western Divide. The warmer afternoon temperatures had made a slushy mess of the roadway from Amphitheater Point to Hospital Rock, and on her return trip down the Generals Highway shortly after nightfall, as temperatures dropped, that slushy mess became an unbroken sheet of black ice.

  “I am very thankful for my all-wheel drive that gave me just enough traction to keep from going over the side in several places,” she said. “In all my years of driving in the parks, I’ve never experienced road conditions any more dangerous.”
   The Three Rivers year-to-date rain totals for 2005-2006 and the current season are no doubt a portent of things to come. In 2005, after a beautiful Christmas Day storm dumped an inch on Three Rivers for a year-to-date total of six inches, during the next six months another 22 inches was recorded in local gauges. The most recent rain brings the current season total to 5.53 inches, and if recent history repeats itself, the Kaweah drainage is on the way to another 20-plus inches and an excellent water-making year.

Sequoia is subject

of Woodlake mural

   For as long as anyone can remember, when teens are unsupervised after school and have nothing to do they gravitate toward trouble. But Woodlake’s YMCA, in partnership with Woodlake Valley Middle School, might have found a program that gets kids involved and creates a visible legacy of what they can accomplish — with a little super vision.

  “The idea of creating a mural was first proposed to me by Laura Armstrong, the local YMCA director, after the kids returned from summer vacation,” said Sigrid Skeen, a Three Rivers resident who teaches art at Woodlake Valley Middle School.
   Sigrid, who has two teens of her own, understands all too well that kids need activities outside of school. With her own kids, she tries to visit the nearby mountains often and pass on her love of the area’s scenic and natural wonders. Coming up with the idea to paint a Sequoia National Park setting was a no-brainer because as an artist it was something she had always wanted to do.
   The first step was a Saturday field trip last September to the Giant Forest so a core group of six students could get acclimated to what might be possible in the mural. Only one of the students had previously experienced the grandeur of this world-class attraction so near, yet for some, so far.

  “We parked at the Crescent Meadow parking area and armed with sketchbooks we hiked out to the Congress Grove on a beautiful fall day,” Sigrid recalled. “I also took some photos so by the end of the afternoon we had some ideas of the flora and the fauna we wanted to portray.”
   Sigrid’s grand design, which three months later became a 15-foot by 12-foot portraiture, mushroomed into a community mural that involved dozens of students, lots of valuable lessons learned, and some creative woodworking by Ryan Sager’s (also of Three Rivers) middle school woodshop classes.

  “We mapped out the design to be painted on canvas on a grid that eventually covered 30 wooden panels,” Sigrid explained. “The kids really were confronted by quite a challenge stretching their canvas and making it all fit.”
   Each step of the project was approved by the Woodlake school board who benefit by owning the building, which is the former middle school gym and multipurpose building, where the mural has been mounted. The mural, entitled “Wild Spirit,” was installed by Kevin Skeen, Sigrid’s husband who teaches math at Woodlake High School, and the capable help from some high school students.
   The mural remained under wraps for several days, Sigrid said, until the official unveiling ceremony Thursday evening, Dec. 6.

  “The kids really were into the event and there was plenty of excitement when the mural was uncovered,” Sigrid said. “The school jazz band played and we toasted our work with sparkling cider in long-stem glasses. It was a gala affair that the kids really enjoyed.”
   The entire project from start to finish was completed in three months. It was made possible by a grant from the YMCA afterschool program — and some very proud students who suddenly are looking forward to staying after school.

CHAMBER CORNER


It’ll be a Happy New Year for Chamber members

   As we enter the month of December and 2007 draws to a close (yes, time really flies when you’re having fun!), the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce is looking forward to its first-ever Community Caroling event, co-sponsored by the Three Rivers Historical Society (see Kaweah Kalendar, page 12, for details).
   And it is shaping up to be an exciting and prosperous 2008 as the Chamber plans, among other things, to:

  —Produce the latest edition of the Three Rivers community telephone directory — The Local Phone Book;

  —Publish a new Three Rivers brochure, which will include a map of the town;

  —Distribute “Welcome Packages” to new residents;

  —Install a new town entrance sign;

  —Launch the second annual series of Heroes Months honoring Firefighters/EMS (January), Law Enforcement/Peace Officers (February), and Veterans/Active Military (March);

  —Host the first-ever Three Rivers Home and Country Living Show in March; and

  —Expand its presence at large state Travel Shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
   For more information about these and other Chamber projects, check out future editions of The Kaweah Commonwealth’s “Chamber Corner”; stop by the Chamber office, located in the Three Rivers Historical Museum, 42268 Sierra Drive; call 561-3300; or visit anytime online at www.sequoiafoothills.org.

Burn permits available

   Burn permits became available this week at the local Cal Fire station (adjacent to Valley Oak Credit Union). They may be obtained at no charge until Monday, Dec. 17 (after this date, call 732-5954).
   Burn permits are required in Three Rivers during the winter in order to burn yard waste.

SPEAKING OUT:
‘Three Rivers Bread Basket’ replaces Pantry

by Elizabeth LaMar

   The Three Rivers Bread Basket (formerly known as the Community Food Pantry) is on the move!
   For the past several years, the Food Pantry has been housed by the First Baptist Church. A committee of community volunteers has recently come together to make plans for its expansion and renovation.
   The Pantry has found a new home and we couldn’t be happier. In partnership with the Three Rivers Players, the Three Rivers Bread Basket will soon begin distributing food from the Three Rivers Arts Center.
   The Arts Center is an ideal location for the food outlet. With the addition of a storage unit, we will have plenty of space for distribution, as well as an area for teaching classes such as sewing, landscaping, gardening, cooking, canning, and much more. Plus the Arts Center is centrally located, yet off the highway.
   In partnership with the Players, plans include:

  —Purchasing a Seatrain storage container for food and supply storage.

  —Leveling ground and making landscape repairs.

  —Assessing and making building repairs both inside and outside.

  —The development and implementation of skill-building classes.

  —Developing a voucher system to be used at The Thingerie thrift store for purchasing clothing and other items for families and individuals as needed.
   A board of directors (listed at the end of this article) was elected at the November meeting, and we are in the process of applying for our 501c3 nonprofit status. We have developed a charter, policies and procedures, and our mission statement, and we have obtained our federal nonprofit tax identification number.
   This is an exciting time for our community. The opportunity to reach out and serve is here, and we hope you will join us.
   We have a lot of work ahead of us, and thanks to the continued generosity of our community, we know that our new endeavor will be successful. Please watch for your opportunity to lend a helping hand as we schedule work and building days in the coming months.
   For more information, call Elizabeth at 561-4154. Donations for food and needed items are always gratefully accepted and can be sent to P.O. Box 449.
   The new officers of the Three Rivers Bread Basket are: Elizabeth LaMar, president; Trish Stivers, vice president; Ralph Hopkin, interim secretary; Arlin Talley, treasurer; Ron Turner, building project chairman; and Joy Niblett and Portia Gunnerud, ad hoc members.
  Elizabeth LaMar is a resident of Three Rivers.

SPEAKING OUT:
Sick of breathing bad air? Take action

by Carole Clum

   Our County can improve our air quality, but they will have to move quickly and firmly.
   Tulare County’s polluted air has caused the second-highest asthma rate in the nation (greater than 1 in 7). Air pollution shortens our lives and causes over 1,600 premature deaths annually in the San Joaquin Valley.
   It reduces our quality of life, forcing us to curtail physical activities outdoors and obscuring and even eliminating our scenic views. It also affects agriculture, our chief industry, reducing crop yields by more than 10 percent (with ozone pollution alone causing up to $270 million a year in crop damage).
   And air pollution damages the Big Trees in our world-famous Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, among the five most polluted parks in the nation.
   While mobile sources (such as cars and trucks) are the greatest source of these pollutants, agriculture (including diesel irrigation pumps, pesticides, and dust) is also a major contributor. For example, Tulare County used more than 17.5 million pounds of pesticides in 2005, the third highest use of any county in California.
   Over 90 percent of these pesticides drift easily away from their point of application, and over a third of them are capable of causing health problems including poisoning, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, sterility, neurotoxicity, and damage to developing children. Over half of all public schools in Tulare County are within a quarter mile of agricultural lands.
   Tulare County is currently updating its General Plan, so now is the time to demand action from our Board of Supervisors to ensure that the Plan will actively address the problem of air pollution. Tell Supervisor Ishida that the County must include in the adopted Plan all of the “Air Quality Guidelines for General Plans” promulgated by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and complete, specific, mandatory implementation measures for every principle and policy.
   Also, the Plan should direct growth to existing communities in the County; sprawl and leapfrog development are major sources of increased air pollution. The longer we wait, the worse it gets.
   Write, e-mail, phone, or visit:
   Supervisor Allen Ishida, 2800 W. Burrel Ave., Visalia, CA 93291; (559) 733-6271; aishida@-co.tulare.ca.us.
   Carole Clum is a resident of Three Rivers.

OBITUARY

Rick Mellon, general manager of

Community Services District
1937 ~ 2007
   Richard G. Mellon, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, in San Clemente after a long-term illness. He was 70.
   Rick was born Aug. 13, 1937, in New Salem, Penn., to Dick and Ruth Mellon. He was raised in Southern California where he attended South Gate High School.
   For 11 years, Rick served in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserves. After his discharge, he spent many years in the banking industry, developing financial software programs for computers.
   In 1979, Rick; his then-wife, Jeanne; and business partner Nancy Mello moved to Three Rivers. The following year, the trio purchased the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge, owning and operating the historic lodge until 1989.
   After the restaurant business, Rick went to work for the Three Rivers Community Services District. He served as the CSD’s general manager for a decade until his retirement in 2001.
   Rick served on the board of directors of the Valley Oak Credit Union. He also shared with them his knowledge of computer-banking software.
   During his retirement, Rick enjoyed community service projects, spending time with his family, friends, and dog Toto, and surfing the Internet in his continuous quest for knowledge.
   Rick was preceded in death by his longtime companion, Leslie Cook, in March 2007.
   Rick is survived by three children, Shelli Ives and husband Brian of Broomfield, Colo.; Lyle Traeger and wife Lori of Laguna Hills; and Cindy Greenbank and husband John of San Clemente; his mother, Ruth Mellon of Whittier; sister Ruth Ann Beaver; and three grandchildren, Tamara and Brent Greenbank and Addison Traeger.
   A private memorial service will be held.

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