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In the News - Friday, December 16, 2011



Salt Creek crash kills driver

  A single-vehicle accident Saturday, Dec. 10, claimed the life of Philip Burton, 60, of Wildomar. Burton was headed eastbound on Highway 198 driving a 1998 Saturn when his vehicle left the roadway at Salt Creek Drive just east of the Salt Creek bridge.
   The crash occurred at 10 p.m. Burton was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:50 p.m.
   It was not immediately known what caused the driver to enter the right shoulder of the roadway and take out a highway sign. The vehicle then crashed into the embankment, careened back onto the roadway and overturned.
   According to a coroner’s report, Burton died from blunt force trauma. Officer Scott Harris of the Visalia CHP said the fact that Burton was not wearing a seatbelt likely contributed to his death.
   Donald Payne, 43, who lives and works in Sequoia National Park, was the sole passenger in the vehicle. He was wearing a seatbelt and was transported to Kaweah Delta Medical Center where he was treated for minor injuries.
   There was no evidence of drug or alcohol use at the scene. The results of toxicology tests are pending.
   According to Burton’s wife, Nancy, Philip was a frequent visitor to the area and recently went on several solo backpacking trips in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. He previously worked for concessions in Sequoia National Park.
   Burton was traveling in a late-model Winnebago “Minnie Winnie” RV that towed the Saturn. Tulare County Sheriff’s Department deputies and National Park Service rangers are on the lookout for Burton’s RV that might still be parked in the area. Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the RV should call Sgt. Wright at 685-2593.

Parks’ fire management officer retires

  When Dave Bartlett officially retires today (Friday, Dec. 16) as Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ fire management officer (FMO), he will be leaving a fine-tuned fire management team.
  “In my time as FMO, I was the conductor of the orchestra and got to choose the music,” Bartlett said. “All of my staff are top-notch and are world-class in what they do.”
   The fact that the best people in the field are here is no surprise, Bartlett said, because Sequoia National Park is renowned for its fire program.
Bartlett, 55, took over Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ top fire job in 2005 after Bill Kaage left for a high-ranking position at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
  “Bill [Kaage] taught me about fire, management, and people, and I will always be indebted to him,” recalled Bartlett.
   Bartlett’s first job in the local parks was in 2001 when he was hired as the temporary Kings Canyon District FMO. That position became permanent and for the next four years he worked under Kaage.
   Bartlett succeeded Kaage and for the past six years he has steered the parks’ fire management program to do what nobody else accomplished — a return to Redwood Mountain. That was a significant achievement, Bartlett said, because in the history of these parks and the business of prescribed fire, Redwood Mountain is where it all began.
  “The Redwood Mountain Grove, arguably the largest giant sequoia grove on the planet, is where [Bruce] Kilgore and some of the early fire managers first burned in a giant sequoia grove in the 1960s,” Bartlett explained. “Being able to build upon that tradition where fire management began is what I’ll remember most about my work here.”
   In the late 1970s, Dave attended Fairmont College in West Virginia where he studied physics and spent lots of time skiing. He also completed some graduate work in forestry at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
  “I have hillbilly in my family that goes way back to the 16th century in West Virginia,” Bartlett stated. “I was born and raised in West Virginia and am proud of my roots.”
   Like a lot of kids growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, Dave longed for a career outdoors. His first agency job was as a seasonal fire lookout in 1983 for the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana.
   For the next few seasons, Dave worked in forest and wilderness management for the U.S. Forest Service in West Virginia.
  “If there was a bug in the trees we killed ‘em,” Dave recalled. “We also battled poachers.”
   The poachers in Appalachia don’t take kindly to the Feds coming in and telling them what animals are off limits, Dave said. They would break into the radio frequency used on the collars to study hibernating black bears and track them down.
   Once they found the location, the poachers would go in and pull the sleeping bears out of their dens, Dave explained. Experiences like these later prompted law enforcement academy training and subsequent appointments as a law enforcement ranger.
   Dave liked the NPS mission, so in 1986 he landed at New River Gorge National River.
  “I started as an interpretive ranger at New River spreading the water safety message,” Dave recalled. “In 1987, I was hired for a position at Shenandoah National Park as a law enforcement ranger in the summer; I returned to New River in the winter to deal with the hunting.”
   With each passing season Dave said he became more aware of the consequences of fire.
  “In those days, everyone from the rangers to the office staff were trained to fight fire,” Dave said. “If there was an emergency, we put on the Nomex [flame retardant suits] and headed out into the forest.”
   At New River, Dave was the supervising ranger with a staff of two. In addition to hunting issues, there was recurring arson.
  “In the Appalachians, fire is a social statement,” Dave explained. “It was how folks told us ‘we don’t like you.’”
   In 1996, Dave became the FMO at New River and wrote the first fire management plan for those lands. The plan developed a fire policy that determined what role fire should and would play in the landscape.
   In those years, Dave first became aware of the work of Stephen Pyne, a fire historian at Arizona State University. Pyne’s work has helped fire managers to understand that there is a social contract with the public when fire is introduced into the landscape.
  “In other words, we have to consider the impacts on the public when we do a prescribed burn,” Dave said. “That consideration is a big part of when and where we burn.”
   Dave met Bill Kaage at a national fire program steering committee meeting in 2000. That’s when Dave realized that the Sequoia experience could be helpful to programs in other parks.
   One year later, Kaage asked Dave to come to Sequoia where he learned the subtleties of managing Western ecosystems mostly by doing.
  “The year 2003 was a watershed for the local program,” said Dave. “We had a great deal of lightning fire that year and the Washington Tree burned. A lot of new policy was developed after that season.”
   After completing the Hart Fire in 2009 and the Redwood Mountain units this past season, Dave feels that it’s time to pass the torch.
   While he waits for his wife, Cindy, to retire from her job as a firefighter Sequoia National Forest, Dave will spend more time at home in Miramonte and with his grandchildren.
  “I enjoy working on a fire so if there is a need I will be ready to help as a consultant,” Dave concluded. “It’s not about the money. Fire is an incredibly complex animal, and analyzing fire behavior is what I enjoy doing most.”

Shopping local just got easier

  Unless someone on your list can’t live another day without that high-tech gizmo, nearly everything under the sun worth gifting is right here in Three Rivers. From gift baskets to original art and crafts, hats, baubles, bangles, clothing, crafted candies, books, games, jewelry, jerky, T-shirts, exotic garments, prayer flags, souvenirs, birdhouses – you name it’s probable that it can found right here in Kaweah Country.
   Two new stores, one of the drop-in variety and one online, illustrate the infinite possibilities of shopping local.
   Sierra Surplus and Survival, located just a few doors upriver from Anne Lang’s Emporium (gift basket central), is constantly in the hunt for new products. They already have an excellent inventory of camping supplies and lots of cool items just in case: the well runs dry, the creek floods, or if you might need a makeshift shelter and are forced to fend for yourself a day or two.
   That possibility is not as far-fetched as it sounds because it happened December 23, 1955. That’s when all of Three Rivers was cut off from the outside world by raging floodwaters for two days. People back in those days were much more self-sufficient. That’s what Warren and Jill Campbell are preaching in this venue: Be prepared!
   In addition to items for preparedness, here is a list of their top 10 Christmas gift ideas or stocking stuffers: patriotic jigsaw puzzles, bags of sand containing authentic flecks of gold, toy military vehicles, hand-crank radios, wilderness survival playing cards, The New England  Primer of 1777 (reprinted), magnesium fire starters, 12-hour light sticks, knot-tying guide, and millennium survival bars.
   Go online to shop local— Derek Philp, owner of Chump’s DVDs and Blu-ray, and Jeremy Cormier have created a virtual store on eBay called “Three Rivers Online.” Three Rivers locals can shop online from an endless inventory of whatever anyone wants to list for sale.
Not only will the store have items that Three Rivers residents have brought in to sell, but goods from local shops are also being offered. The item may be purchased and paid for online 24/7.
   Shopping at Three Rivers Online uses the Internet to keep the cash and goods local — no shipping necessary. Simply pick up the item at Chump’s on your next visit to town.
To access the online store, go to www.ebay.com. To the right of the search bar, click “Advanced.” Then from this page, click on the “Find Stores” link on the left side of the page. Type in “Three Rivers Online.” The store page will appear with its current items and prices.
For information on selling an item, contact Chump’s, 561-4191.

Kings Canyon-based Hotshots honored

  At the regular Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew was honored by District One supervisor Allen Ishida (right) for their 30 years of service. John Goss, Arrowhead superintendent; Jesse Schmidt; Roberto Garcia; and Joe Suarez, Arrowhead captain, were in attendance to accept the honor.

Three Rivers Christmas traditions

  A recent art project assigned by Three Rivers School teacher Gail Matuskey to her fourth-graders was for them to draw their rendition of Pat O’Connell’s “Tow Truck Santa,” which has greeted passersby on Highway 198 each December for nearly a half-century. On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Pat made a visit to the school to view the art, which is on display outdoors on the wall of the primary building.

A rare glimpse at Cort Gallery namesake’s art

By Lisa Lieberman

  The age-old question of “What is art?” is probably cliché. But the question of “What good does art do?” is a different question.
  “Art’s attractive to the human eye,” said Gary Cort, owner of the Cort Gallery in Three Rivers. “It’s a way to amuse myself, it’s a way to express the ego, it’s a way to connect with the world.”
   For two consecutive Saturdays — December 17 and 24 — Gary will hold a rare exhibition of his own art. The collection includes pen-and-ink drawings, pencil drawings, abstract acrylic paintings, metal sculptures, and pieces of junk Gary has collected from Slicky over the years and transformed into art.
   The exhibit also includes one of Gary’s fantasy architectural designs: a spiral house that never needs vacuuming or sweeping, only the occasional washing with a garden hose.
   During a preview of the art show, Gary paused at one of his favorite pieces — a black and white drawing of Three Rivers 100 years from now. He pointed out a train coming into town, which consisted of high-tech teepees, organic crops, and larger-than-life animals, such as bears, herons, and dragonflies that lived in peace with the local inhabitants.
   Most interestingly of all, Gary has pictures of current-day Three Rivers, including Pat O’Connell’s former collection of defunct cars and of crumbling buildings falling down and resurrecting themselves.
   Gary mostly paints and draws in black and white.
  “Everyone wants me to use color, but black and white catches the eye more and it blurs reality,” Cort says.
   In some ways, much like the famous artist, M.C. Escher, the black and white makes the viewer work harder to see the hidden patterns in the pieces.
   As I walked through the gallery, I paused at one of my favorite drawings of Gary’s — a picture called “Face It,” which is of a climber scaling the hard rock face of a mountain.
   The climber’s hands are huge, and the viewer almost feels as if the climber is about to step right out of the picture.
  “It’s what you call exaggerated perspective and it produces a dizzying effect,” he said. “There you are, facing the rock, and you can almost touch the climber’s fingers. You deal with whatever’s in front of you. That’s part of the meditation. You don’t think of all those issues down below; you’re just watching where you put your fingers.”
   Gary’s art show, located at 41881 Sierra Highway, will be open to the public on both Saturdays from 10 a.m. until dark.
   Lisa Lieberman of Three Rivers is a freelance writer.

Woodlake athletics recognized

  On Dec. 16, the Woodlake City Council honored its local fall sports champions. UPPER PHOTO: The Woodlake Lady Tigers varsity volleyball team were league champions and undefeated in East Sequoia League play. MIDDLE PHOTO: The Wildcats middle-school cheer squad helped to root on the Wildcats (LOWER PHOTO) to a perfect 10-0 season in the Pop Warner Football League (Pee Wee Division) play.


Meadows, mosquitoes, and mountain memories

By Sarah Elliott

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


   It’s the little things— I realized early on this morning that there are some minutiae that I would not want to do without on a backpacking trip. I discovered this because I could not find any of them when needed. These small but mighty items are: twist ties, pennies, and lip balm.
   Twist ties come in handy in so many ways. Sure, they are excellent closures for plastic bags, but they also serve as zipper pulls and are strong enough, yet pliable enough, to be used for myriad minor repairs.
   Pennies are the only money we need in the backcountry. In fact, they are more valuable than gold as it is a penny that is used to unlock the bear canister, which is where our food is stored.
   As I am the camp cook, I keep a penny in my pants pocket at all times, and there is a backup opener-tool attached to the kitchen-utensil bag.
   Lip balm with sunscreen is a necessity. Unless it’s cloudy, a backpacker will spend most of the daylight hours in direct sunlight. It’s important to protect the lips from the dehydrating and damaging effects of the sun. Lip balm is effective at night too as the mountain air is very dry.
   Pack it in, pack it out— As I was putting our resealable bag of trash into my pack, I pondered the litter we had retrieved at various places during the past week. So to segue from necessities to pet peeves, here is the trash we were packing out on behalf of others: a Mylar birthday balloon, used tea bag, plastic food container, rusty treble hook and fishing line, and a plastic bread-bag clasp (use twist-ties!).
   We bring back one or more balloons from nearly every hike. Please don’t let your helium balloons loose; prevailing breezes deposit them directly in the waterways, meadows, and trees of the Sierra.
   Restless sky— Weather can change quickly in the mountains. The day before, the sky was clear and blue with nary a cloud the entire day. Today, even though it was barely 8 a.m., the clouds were beginning to build and darken.
   After breakfast, clean-up, tearing down, and packing, we shrugged into our backpacks that, during the waning days of this journey, we getting noticeably lighter as the food stores declined. We hiked the mile or so from our campsite to the junction (see photo right) where we merged with the main trail to Lost Canyon and Columbine Lake.
   From this intersection, we descended a mountain of switchbacks that would take us to the shoreline of Big Five Lake No. 1. This is the only lake in the chain where there is a food-storage box. Several campsites are located nearby.
   We crossed the outlet creek, which can be tricky during high water, and began ascending the south ridge. At the top, the trail levels out for nearly a mile.
   We passed by a tranquil tarn with water so still that the surrounding treetops and peaks were a mirror image on the water’s surface. Boulders appeared above the glassy surface like hundreds of small islands and green grass protruded from the water in a valiant attempt to transform this pond to meadow. Weathered, white wood, a remnant of so many past storms, was strewn about in nature’s artistic, yet chaotic, way.
   From this plateau, the trail descends briefly to a junction at Lost Canyon Creek. Here is another bear-proof locker with camping opportunities.
   We kept our boots on at this crossing of the meandering waterway, then followed the creek on flat trail through a forest of lodgepole pine. Within a half-mile, the creek gets in the way again and by this time it has picked up speed as the canyon is beginning to steepen.
   I resigned myself to changing out my boots for sandals and wading across the knee-deep water. My three companions, however, were determined to keep their boots on. Up-canyon they scrambled to find a crossing.
   Although they were eventually successful in their quest, it wasn’t easy to find the perfect rock-log combo on which to hop across, so this time I had my boots back on and met up with them as they were regrouping.
   We were just emerging from the trees at the mouth of Lost Canyon when the first raindrops fell. Watching the clouds build all day, we knew there was no escaping this storm, so we stopped to dig our rain gear out of our packs.
   Occasional surges of subtropical moisture are typical during the summer months in the Sierra. Increasingly moist and unstable air, typically called “monsoonal” surges, creates conditions for strong thunderstorms.
   Today, these upper-air disturbances developed into thunderstorms near the crest of the Sierra Nevada and had been steadily moving west toward our location all day.
   As if on cue, when we entered the exposed terrain of Lost Canyon, the thunder started to rumble ominously. Here is where things got interesting.
   With just a couple more miles to go to our destination of Columbine Lake, we could be there in an hour or so. We were so close, yet so far, as the route entails climbing steep switchbacks above treeline to a ridgetop, which is not the place to be when lightning is in the vicinity.
   The open expanse of Lost Canyon wasn’t the ideal place during a thunderstorm either, but I was more secure here because the narrow canyon is flanked by tall granite walls, meaning we were the low point.
   Although we’ve been in a lot of thunderstorms, and I have read extensively on what to do when outdoors during lightning, all I’ve really learned is that there are precautions to take, but nothing is foolproof. It’s like hiking in grizzly country; there is recommended advice on what to do in the event of an attack, but no guarantees for survival. Mother Nature likes to switch things up.
   We moved to a low spot in the meadow, away from any lone trees, and were discussing having lunch while waiting out the storm activity when a backpacker strode by and said, “Go to the side of the canyon; you’re too exposed.”
   That is exactly what I didn’t want to do since the car-sized boulders were the tallest objects around and could attract a strike.
   But because of this man’s warning, we continued walking up-canyon. When we next saw the man, he had caught up with two other backpackers who had also decided to find a low spot in the meadow. These two told us they wanted to stay to the middle of the narrow canyon rather than the side.
   They seemed to have changed the mindset of the first backpacker as he was now staying with them in their exposed state. We left them there as the four of us moved to an area of decomposed granite with some boulders scattered about, but with the larger targets farther up the slope.
   This was where we would wait out the storm. Looking back toward Big Arroyo, we could see rain moving toward us. This is where the lightning strikes were currently concentrating efforts as well.
   Where we were, the rain had subsided for the time being, but we could tell by looking at the restless skies that we were in for an active afternoon. Soon, the distant rolls of thunder became not so distant.
   We ate lunch while watching the storm move our way. There was still not much moisture, just electrical activity, so we spent some of the time crouched in an upright fetal position and on the balls of our feet, thus minimizing contact with the ground in the event of a strike.
   The three men passed by and we watched them climb part way up the ridge to a group of trees. This still was not the ideal place to seek refuge as the trees were the highest point and several of the trunks showed evidence of previous strikes.
   The brunt of the storm seemed to be stalled over Big Arroyo, so we eventually turned our backs to it and continued our westward trek toward Columbine Lake. At the headwaters of   Lost Canyon Creek, a large snowfield covered the waterway. Even though the calendar said late August — mid-season in the High Sierra — with the snow, black clouds, and cold temperature, we could have been easily convinced that it was April or May.
   We met up with the men, who now numbered four, at their shelter of trees. We swapped storm stories and watched the sky.
   It was our party of four that first made the decision to continue toward Columbine Lake during this lull in the action. We started up the switchbacks and were soon spread out along the trail with Jimmy way up in front, Jennie and I in the middle, and John playing sweeper.
   As soon as we left the trees, we again felt vulnerable. Should we go down or up? Human nature makes it difficult to retreat, plus turning around meant heading back toward the storm.
   This section of trail is steep, exposed, yet short as it makes its way quickly to a sandy saddle that would deliver us up and over to the tree-less cirque that is Columbine Lake (elevation 10,774 feet). Jimmy reached the top first, left his pack, then passed Jennie and me on his way down to accompany John.
   Jennie and I neared the top as thunder rumbled in the distance. For a couple of minutes, we pondered whether we should attempt to crest the saddle.
   The sight of blue sky lured us forward. As we neared the 11,000-foot gap and the sunshine on the other side, our step quickened and we rejoiced at the familiar territory.
   Our jubilation was met with a bolt of lightning immediately adjacent to the pass and a simultaneous blast of thunder. We screamed in unison, turned, and sprinted 15 feet down the trail, diving behind a boulder. What heavy packs? A few dozen pounds of extra weight didn’t slow us at all during our hasty retreat.
   This rogue lightning strike was far from the main storm, and it was the closest that Jennie or I had ever experienced. There was no warning such as the telltale sign of hair standing on end.
   So I will reiterate, there are precautions that everyone should take when there is lightning looming, but even if one does everything right, when outdoors there are no guarantees on how best to avoid these storms.
   In the time it took John and Jimmy to reach us there had been no other strikes. There was no additional weather drama as we crested the ridge together and traversed the narrow trail along the steep slope above the north side of the lake.
   In the distance we could see a group of campers watching us intently as we made our way toward them. It turned out that we weren’t the party they wanted to see, but instead were waiting for the four men we had met at the trees.
   We assured them they were on their way. One of the men in the group offered to lead us to a campsite.
   One glance at the area revealed that the campsites usually accessible were snow-covered or currently ponds as a result of melting snow. We took him up on his offer, and he took us directly to a snow-free area that would serve us well for the night.
  We were joyous while setting up camp because the storm threat had vanquished, all were  safe and healthy, and we were now stronger for the experience.
   We had a bond that only comes from sharing this kind of adventure together and spending time in places as special as this.

  To be continued...


Forrest Nanney

   Forrest Elwood Nanney of Three Rivers died at his home on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. He was 89.
   A memorial service will be held today (Friday, Dec. 16), at 2 p.m., at the Apple House, 42761 North Fork Drive, Three Rivers. Burial will be at the Three Rivers Cemetery.
   Forrest was born March 11, 1922, in Pocatello, Idaho, to George Washington Nanney and Nessie Rebecca Nanney.
   He was raised in Van Nuys and graduated from Van Nuys High School. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II from 1942 to 1944.
   After the war, he married the former Sandra Doreen Williams. He was a deeply religious man and never retired from his lifelong career as a pastor. Forry had been a resident of Three Rivers for more than 50 years, living most recently in the old “Apple House” on North Fork Drive.
   Forry was most likely known by all in Three Rivers. He walked almost daily from his North Fork home to central Three Rivers, always dressed in white with his long, white hair and beard, and carrying his staff and bag.
   Forry lived a simple life in his cabin on the North Fork, which he used as a home base for his many travels around the world. He spread the word of God in India, Hawaii, Mexico, and all over the United States.
   According to his nephew, Rick Williams, Forry loved all people. He was kind to everyone and helped people in any way he could.
  “He was the embodiment of what a Christian should be,” said Rick.
   Forry is survived by his son, Mark Blowers of Rogue River, Ore., and daughter Margie Sabol of Grants Pass, Ore.
   Condolences may be sent to the family at www.evansmillerguinnchapel.com.

Bonnie Chilcoat
1910 ~ 2011

   Bonnie Mae Chilcoat of Three Rivers died Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. She was 101.
   When Bonnie was two years old, her mother died. She remembered that she grew up with her grandmother taking care of her and her father always working. When the children were old enough, they were sent to a boarding school in Blue Ridge, Ga.
   Bonnie and her late husband, Ted, moved to Three Rivers in 1955 from Hawthorne in Los Angeles County. They had passed through on a camping trip to Sequoia and fell in love with Three Rivers.
   They stopped to see a local real estate broker, Ernest Eggers, and bought two lots on the river beside the Chevron station by Slicky. They parked a small trailer there and would visit often and work on their property.
   They planted trees, terraced the land, and landscaped it with plans to eventually install a mobile home there and move to Three Rivers permanently.
   In December 1955, the couple was traveling over the Grapevine in their car, followed by a truck that was hauling their new mobile home. It began to rain, and the closer they got to Three Rivers, the heavier the rain became.
   By the time they got to the Woodlake turnoff, the highway to Three Rivers was closed and Caltrans workers told them the Kaweah River was flooding.
   In the meantime, Mr. Eggers went down to the Chilcoats’ property, hooked up their little trailer, and towed it to his house (on present-day Eggers Drive) on higher ground.
   Following this infamous “Christmas flood,” the Chilcoats lived on that riverfront property for several years in their mobile home. They had several more close calls with the river, so the Chilcoats decided it was time to move up the hill. The couple bought two lots on Mynatt Drive and relocated their mobile home.
   Bonnie continued to reside there up to her last days.
   In her Neighbor Profile, published November 26, 2010, in commemoration of Bonnie’s 100th birthday, she recalled the first automobile she ever saw.
   She remembered her grandmother telling her one day that a car would be traveling down their road. None of the family had never seen a car, so no one wanted to miss the event.
  “Granny sent the kids out to stand by the road and told us to call her when we saw the car coming,” Bonnie reminisced. “We all sat along the side of the road, and wen we saw the car coming, we yelled, ‘Granny! Granny! Here it comes... There is went!’
  “Not realizing how fast a car could go, it went by before Granny could even get out to the road!”
   Bonnie is survived by one daughter, Joann Knapp.

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