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In the News - Friday, December 18, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Generals Highway

rockslide hits car

  The Generals Highway is one of America’s most beautiful scenic drives. Its curving two-lane roadway is literally carved out of sheer rock in places, debris poised to come tumbling down at Mother Nature’s slightest provocation.
   On Sunday, Dec. 13, following several days of rainfall, tons of loose rock and dirt came down on the highway and its narrow shoulder in several places between Ash Mountain and Potwisha. For one carload of park visitors, a mass of rocky debris slammed into their late-model SUV.
   The fateful rockslide, which occurred about a half-mile up the road from the Foothills Visitor Center, rendered the vehicle inoperable, but the occupants — a couple and four children, ranging in age from six to 12 — escaped without injury.

  “When we crashed in the rockslide, it was so scary,” said Maryjane Castillo, 29, who was a passenger in the front seat. “I thought we were hit by a bomb or something.”
   The vehicle, driven by Michael Garcia, 29, was heading down canyon so the passenger side took the brunt of the hit.

  “We were barely able to make it off the roadway to the turnout because the tire blew out,” Maryjane said. “We knew we’d better get the car off the roadway in case there was any traffic coming around the bend.”
   Ranger Steve Clary, who was on patrol, arrived on the scene a few minutes after the near-tragedy.

  “That’s the same place where a couple of years ago a boulder the size of a house came out of the hillside,” Ranger Clary recalled, “That entire area along the upper side of the road here is really unstable.”
   Kirk Stiltz, roads supervisor, was summoned to clear the roadway. While Stiltz was lifting and pushing tons of debris off the roadway, more loose material came tumbling down.
   The road was closed for about 30 minutes and then intermittently while the rock and debris was being cleared away. Throughout this past week, orange cones marked the areas where there was the greatest potential for more slides.

  “I knew I should have stayed home and watched the Raiders’ game!” said Michael. “Seeing the snow at Giant Forest was fun with the kids but now this happened.”
   Drivers in the parks are asked to slow down and watch for falling rocks and debris on the roadway, especially during or after rainstorms.

New superintendent is

Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s

first woman boss

   When Karen Taylor-Goodrich arrives next month at Ash Mountain to take over the top job at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, she will be breaking some historic ground. Not only is she setting out to prove that the best man for the job is a woman, but direct from Washington, D.C., she brings a strong wilderness background.

  “I took my very first backpacking trip into Kings Canyon National Park from the east side of the Sierras when I was a teenager,” said Taylor-Goodrich in a statement announcing the appointment. “As a kid from the L.A. suburbs, that experience opened up a world that has become my passion and career.” I’m delighted to be returning to the place that kindled my interest in protected areas and my understanding of the powerful influence wild places can have on each of us.”
   In Washington, D.C., Taylor-Goodrich has served as the National Park Service’s first Associate Director for Visitor and Resource Protection since 2003, managing a staff of 160 with a budget in excess of $22 million. In her current position, she helps in the supervision of seven national divisions that include law enforcement, security and emergency services, fire and aviation, employee and public health and safety, special park uses and regulations, and wilderness stewardship.
   The new superintendent also brings an impressive skill set developed while directing a range of park-level programs at Yosemite National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in Washington, and National Capital Parks-East in the District of Columbia.
   Taylor-Goodrich’s background includes some international assignments, including a stint as a ranger at Kosciusko National Park in Australia and project team leader in the Maasai Mara region of Tanzania. Last month, she coordinated the signing of an unprecedented memorandum with Mexico and Canada to protect trans-boundary wilderness.
   It is this passion for wilderness where Taylor-Goodrich recently built upon her local connection. As current chair of the Interagency Wilderness Policy Council, she hosted an August summit in D.C. entitled “Wilderness and Climate Change: Impacts, Challenges, and Opportunities.”
   The first two speakers she introduced at that national forum were Dr. Dave Graber and Dr. Nate Stephenson, two of Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s acknowledged experts in ecology and wilderness policy-making. The fact that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are on the cutting edge of wilderness research was huge in Taylor-Goodrich seizing the opportunity to return to California.

  “I’m excited about the many challenges and opportunities Sequoia and Kings Canyon presents,” said Taylor-Goodrich. “I look forward to getting to know and working with the park staff, the local communities, my interagency colleagues, and our other partners to protect and conserve this very special region.”
   Taylor-Goodrich will officially begin her tenure as park superintendent in early February. She succeeds Craig Axtell who retired in October.

Sierra snow is 97 percent of normal

   That series of storms that blew through the Southern sierra region last weekend brought more than 30 inches of snow above 7,000 feet. That was great news for water watchers who are feeling a little anxious about the prospects of a fourth consecutive below normal precipitation season. But the recent storms were especially generous to the local Sierras; northern regions received significantly less snow and are currently reported to be around 68 percent of normal for this early time in the season.
   Local ski resorts are up and running with Sierra Summit reporting a base of 18-24 inches while Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park is reporting two to three feet of base. Badger Pass opens today and its new shuttle service from Oakhurst starts Saturday, Dec. 19.
   The 47-passenger bus operated by Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts is really a coup for skiers who don’t want the hassle of driving and chaining up in the wintry road conditions. The shuttle departs from Miller’s Mountain Sports in Oakhurst at 7:00 a.m. and makes a stop at Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp.
   The fare is $10 and includes park entry at Yosemite’s south entrance. The shuttle will run on weekends for the entire Badger Pass season which is scheduled to stay open until April 3.
   During the holiday period, Sat. Dec. 26 to Sun. Jan. 3, the shuttle will operate daily. Departure from Badger Pass is 3:45 p.m. with a scheduled arrival back in Oakhurst at 5:30 pm.
   For information about the new shuttle service call the Delaware North Companies Recreation Office at (209) 372-1114; for Badger Pass information and snow conditions call (209) 372-1114.
   A little closer to home, the local mountains received nearly 30 inches of snow at the Farewell Gap sensor at 9,600 feet in Mineral King. The Giant Forest area received more than a foot and a half of snow with areas around Lodgepole and Wuksachi reporting just over two feet.
   The local snow is ideal for snowshoeing especially during crusty conditions in the mornings. It’s a little early for cross country ski enthusiasts but the snow that is on the ground will make an excellent base for the next series of storms which could reach the area by Christmas Day.
   For road and snow conditions in the local mountains call 565-3341.

The end of an era in Yosemite

Tribute held for Nic and Midge Fiore

   When the Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park opens for the season today (Friday, Dec. 18), there will be an empty pair of skis. That’s because Nic Fiore, one of America’s most influential ski instructors and a Yosemite legend for nearly six decades, died last June at the age of 88.
   On Saturday, Dec. 5, more than 800 people attended a tribute service at the Curry Pavilion and Lounge for Nic and his wife, Midge, who died in 2003. Overflow seating was provided outside on this 40-degree day, in the shadow of Glacier Point, where a big-screen was set up to simulcast the program that was occurring inside.
   Dan Jensen, chief operating officer of Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, welcomed the throng of the Fiores’ family and friends, as well as Nic’s former students, colleagues, and co-workers. Nic’s daughter, Cindy, rang the Badger Pass ski school bell, which was transported down the mountain especially for the occasion.
   After presentations by nearly two dozen speakers, including Congressman George Radanovich, the audience inside and out joined in the singing of the French folk song Alouette. Commemorative ski pins, engraved with Nic’s name, were provided to all who attended the historic tribute.
   Nic is said to have taught more than 100,000 people to ski at Badger Pass from 1948 to 2004. This popular, family-friendly ski-and-snowboard resort is the oldest alpine ski area in California.
   Nicholas Fiore was born Dec. 1, 1920, in Montreal, Canada, one of 12 children. While teaching skiing in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains, he was invited to become a ski instructor at Badger Pass. He arrived at Yosemite Valley in December 1948.
   When he caught a glimpse of the sheer granite walls that surround the famous valley he exclaimed in his usual skiing frame of mind, “This is fantastic!” Then he asked, “Where do the beginners learn to ski?”
   Nic planned to stay at Badger Pass for just that winter season. But, as is the story of so many, he fell in love with Yosemite and never left. When the ski season concluded in the spring, Nic would make his way to the valley where he went to work in the park’s hotels, eventually serving as maitre d’hotel of the Ahwahnee Lodge and working various stints as manager of the Glacier Point Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, and the five High Sierra Camps.
   Nic met his wife-to-be, Midge, while working in Yosemite. She and her sister, Barbara, had arrived in 1945 and were working in the Curry Village dining room.
   They married in 1951. The Fiores became an indispensable part of the Yosemite community, where they raised their two daughters.
Nic directed Yosemite’s ski and snowboard school at Badger Pass for 45 years (1956-2001). Well into his 80s, he continued to hit the slopes nearly everyday and even taught an occasional ski lesson into the 2003-2004 season.
   According to his family and friends, Nic will be remembered for his friendly grin, heavy French Canadian accent, and immense knowledge of the Sierra. In addition, he had a passion for skiing and made outstanding contributions to the sport, as a charter member of the California Ski Instructors Association in the 1940s and as a founder of the Professional Ski Instructors of America group, founded in 1961.
   Nic underwent heart surgery in 2004, which caused him to miss the opening of Badger Pass’s 70th season in December. In May 2009, he had a stroke and, on June 16, he died in a Fresno nursing home.
   Nic and Midge are survived by their two daughters, Cindy Volpa and Nicci Goc; and eight grandchildren.

Boy Scouts revived in Three Rivers

   A recently organized Boy Scouts of America Pack No. 323 had their first meeting Monday, Dec. 7, where the boys made Christmas ornaments, which is in keeping with their monthly theme, Christmas Art. This carried over to Sunday, Dec. 13, when the pack attended the Enchanted Playhouse’s production in Visalia of “Tiny Tim’s Christmas.”
   Those interested in having their sons join the local Boy Scouts may call 561-3574 for information and an application.

COS Health Center

offering flu vaccinations

   While supplies last, H1N1 vaccines and seasonal flu vaccines will be available at no charge at the College of the Sequoias Health Center.    As of last Friday morning, Dec. 11, there were 585 doses of H1N1 vaccine and 107 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine.
   Swine flu was first identified in April. During the first seven months of the pandemic, it sickened about 50 million Americans and killed about 10,000, according to CDC estimates.
   Fourteen states are reporting widespread influenza activity; a decline of 11 states from last week. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
   Vaccinations will be available to the general public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Health Center, which is located at the southeast corner of the Giant Forest building on the COS campus in Visalia.
   For more information and to ensure doses are still available, call 730-3880.

Sheriff’s Department

offers holiday safety tips

   The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department has issued a reminder for citizens to be on the lookout for criminal activity that is associated with the holiday season. Especially during challenging economic times, it is common to experience an increase in crime. Here some tips to stay safe:
   When shopping— Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Park in a well-lit area. Remember to lock your vehicle. In fact, keep vehicle doors and windows locked while you are in it. Minimize the number of valuables left in your vehicle and keep valuables, such as electronics and gifts, out of sight. Protect your purse or wallet. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or extra credit cards. Role-play with children about what they should do in the event you are separated. Have your keys out and ready when you return to your vehicle. Do not leave your car unattended with the motor running or with the keys in the ignition, even for the very short time needed to pay for fuel, do a quick errand, or even warming it up in the driveway. Only make online purchases from trusted, secure websites (look for “https” in the web address, which verifies security).
   At home— Place gifts where they can’t be seen from the outside. Avoid opening the door to strangers (legitimate delivery people will be able to show identification). Investigate charities before donating by calling the Secretary of State or the charity’s main office. Have outdoor lights that are activated by sensors. Mail cards with money, checks, or gift cards only from a post office or a blue U.S. Postal Service collection box (not in a roadside mailbox). If traveling, ask the Sheriff’s VIPs or a trusted friend or neighbor to watch your home and make arrangements for mail and newspapers.
   When driving— Do not drink and drive. Wear your seatbelt and make sure everyone else in the vehicle buckles up too. Prepare for winter driving conditions and equip your vehicle with cold-weather emergency supplies. Do not talk on a cell phone, text, or anything else that will cause a distraction. Take frequent breaks to avoid fatigue, especially when driving long distances. Give yourself extra time for travel, especially in fog or rain or during peak travel times when traffic is heavier than normal.


Eating healthy despite the holidays

By Tina St. John

   Healthy eating and habits are possible throughout the holidays.
   Every year at this time out comes all the decadent food. We all look forward to eating non-stop all the luscious treats like cookies, cakes, and appetizers oozing with all those forbidden ingredients that wreak havoc on our insides.
   If only we could eat all these non-filtering, processed holiday delights without the effect it has on our bodies. Who are we kidding when we tell ourselves that these foods have no calories and if they do, oh well, it’s the holidays.
   How do you resist? It’s the time of year to celebrate joy and good tidings and it only happens once a year. But the trays of goodies seem to appear more than once during this once-a-year season.
   And it’s funny how when the treats do appear, all our justifications start to go off in our heads. “When the New Year starts, I’ll stop.” “I’ll eat the mini blueberry cheesecake and get my fruits and protein.” “I’ll skip dinner tonight or breakfast tomorrow.” “I’ll do twice as much exercise to make up for what I’m eating.”
   Yeah, right. I know it’s a challenge. Everything is so good, and how often do cream-filled brownies or apricot-glazed strudel come into our day? Not often, which is why it’s so hard to pass on these mouthwatering treats.
   After all, we have to experience happiness, and eating should never be torture or create suffering. But when we do indulge, we suffer.
Our bodies suffer, our minds suffer, and our emotions suffer because we’ve filled ourselves with food that creates havoc in our system. It’s a fact.
   The good news is that there’s a host of things one can do to minimize the effects of consecutive days of poor eating so that come January 2nd one doesn’t feel like an overstuffed pig wanting to lie down only to pass the time.
   First of all, when the food tray appears, do not overindulge. Enjoy, but try not to be excessive.
   Remember what it felt like when you ate too much in the past? That’s right, now hold that vision when you’re reaching for that second or third ooey-gooey-cheesy thing that is so delectable you have to have one more taste because you may never see it again. Moderation is the key.
   Second, if you know the tray is coming, drink some water and fill up. This is the most simple and sure way to curb your appetite and save your tummy from overload. It really works.
   Third, if you’ve eaten beyond your limit because, oh my goodness, there was no way you were going to pass up that chocolate concoction that you’re certain came from the planet of Chocolate Gods, then exercise. Get moving by walking, stretching, bicycling, or whatever to get your body in motion. Exercise helps to move things through your system much faster than sitting or doing nothing.
   And finally, do your best to begin your day by eating raw food. This ensures you get the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
   You can make a smoothie in the morning for breakfast, then sometime during the day eat a healthy salad. Those two things will help keep those butter-laced sugar bugs on the run.
   I’ve included two Healthy Morning Smoothie recipes for your defense. I’ve also enclosed Nikki’s Healthy Holiday Cookies.
   Bon Appetit!

1 large banana
Juice of 4 oranges
¼ cup frozen strawberries
1 ripe pear
1 heaping tbs. MSM (available at Three Rivers Mercantile)
5 leaves of organic greens of your choice (optional)
  Blend and drink.


1 large banana
Juice of 4 oranges
¼ cup frozen strawberries
1 ripe pear
1 heaping tbs. MSM (available at Three Rivers Mercantile)
5 leaves of organic greens of your choice (optional)
  Blend and drink.


3 large bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut oil, warmed only so it isn’t solid
(Alternative: olive oil)
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cups almond meal
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded and unsweetened
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. fine grain salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 oz. of chocolate chips or dark chocolate bar, chopped

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients and drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown.


Avoid singing the holiday blues

   The holiday blues: Elvis sang about them and people bring them up every year. Depression can happen any time, but the glow of the holidays might deepen your blues by contrast, so let’s consider causes and solutions.
   Unrealistic expectations: Much as a bride on her wedding day might treat a snag as a catastrophe, some people have a fantasy script for the “perfect Christmas” and react severely when things aren’t exactly right.
   Recommendation: Over-planning Christmas has the same effect as over-planning a vacation, and makes it about as fun. Choose one or two themes and keep your focus there. Be available for others. Years from now, your family will most fondly remember your presence and thoughtfulness, not how much money you spent.
   Missing those remembered more: When a loved one is absent, something seems profoundly missing. People who aren’t with their families during Christmas may also feel out of place. I will never forget my middle school teacher tearfully recalling being in Vietnam 20 years earlier, singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve in a strange land with soldiers he didn’t know. He had still not gotten past that trauma.
   Recommendation: Grieve healthfully for those who aren’t with you, but balance your feelings with gratitude for having known this person in the first place.
   Hazards of winter: During long, dark winter days your pineal gland secretes more melatonin, which can cause fatigue. Seasonal Affective Disorder (a depressive disorder) affects people vulnerable to extended darkness. People are also prone to exercising less and are more likely to catch colds and viruses during cooler months.
   Recommendation: Get an early start on your New Year’s resolution with regular, moderate-intensity aerobic workouts. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller, and helps boost your mood.
   Six weeks of chaos: Fifty years ago, Christmas lasted one week. People put up their trees three or four days before Christmas and took them down shortly after. Now it lasts from Thanksgiving until New Year’s — a month of lines, parties, traffic, travel arrangements, delays, and hunting for a parking space.
   Recommendation: Take control of your schedule. Don’t go to parties you’d rather avoid (okay, maybe one) and spend quiet evenings at home. Take time to rest and limit your shopping to two well-planned days. Accept that your patience will be tried and that everything will take you twice as long.
   The temptation of holiday debt: The desire to overspend can be overwhelming.
   Recommendation: Parents who buy their kids expensive presents say more about their needs than those of their kids. Love isn’t about the cost of gifts but the thoughtfulness of the giver. Your child will love two special gifts that hit the target way more than 12 gifts that are mediocre.
   Alcohol: Holiday parties mean alcohol, a depressant that interferes with sleep, motor coordination, inhibition, and thinking. It’s also immensely destructive to internal organs.
   Recommendation: Limit your drinking. If you cannot get through the holidays without alcohol, you have a problem. Do not get into serious family conversations while under the influence, lest you say something you will regret.
   Taking stock and not liking what you see: Often people are guilty of the hindsight bias (erroneously thinking that they should have known all along what the right choices were) and do not like the fruits of their labors. “I could be making more money.” “I could be doing things better.” “I made many mistakes as a parent.” “I should lose more weight.”
   Recommendation: Be realistic. You’ve done better than you think. Balance your self-criticism with recognition for what you’ve done well and approach the New Year as a chance to learn from your mistakes. Get some perspective by volunteering to help some of the many people considerably worse off than you.
   Post-Christmas letdown: Some people feel let down after realizing the presents have all been opened. Some catch more sleep. Others, paradoxically, get addicted to stress and go shopping the day after Christmas.
   Recommendation: Embrace your post-Christmas crash. Your exhaustion isn’t abnormal; it’s your body’s way of telling you you’re spent. Indulge in a couple of lazy days around the house. If you cannot relax, consider how addicted to stress you might be.
   In the same way that Scrooge pledged to keep Christmas every day of the year, endeavor to maintain a sense of balance, perspective, and gratitude through the holiday season and beyond. Don’t buy in to the madness.
   Focusing on love, joy, peace — the important things — can cure even the most Grinchy spell of the blues.
   This article was contributed by Jay Pope, a psychology professor at Fresno Pacific University.


Making the rounds at the

last 1st Saturday of 2009

By Eddie McArthur

   If you haven’t yet ventured out on the first Saturday of a given month, you are missing several major treats. I’ve learned that I simply can’t see every artist, attend every venue, or take advantage of every special offer each month because there is simply too much happening!
   But isn’t that a great problem to have? So, here are the few I saw this past 1st Saturday (Dec. 4):
   My husband and I stopped by Anne Lang’s for a bite to eat to energize us for our visits. We sat in near-darkness as Anne and her cheerful crew dealt with an ill-timed power outage. The wonderful array of munchies was too tempting to pass up, and just before we left the power came back on, hopefully a portent of a good day to come.
   At the local Century 21 office, Geoffrey Glass has a display of photography dubbed “The Seasons of Three Rivers.” Geoff does all the work himself from capturing the beautiful scenes — and he has a great eye — to the enlargements and framing. A new talent has “flashed” onto the local scene. If you love the views around our area, and who doesn’t?, be sure to check out Geoff’s work.
   We stopped next at Colors Art Studio and Gallery where Wendy McKellar’s wonderful furniture pieces are tempting my eye and my wallet. I’m going to have to find a place in our home for one of these magical pieces of art masquerading as furniture.
   Leslie Powell joined Wendy this month, displaying her fanciful metal sculptures. The huge sunflowers especially seemed to be talking to me. I’m picturing one of them nestled amidst real sunflowers next season.
   Nadi Spencer’s colorful studio was decked out in celebration of the month of December. The fragrance of her Moroccan Bastilla was like walking past the cinnamon roll place at the mall; you just have to go in.
   Here, a crowd gathered by the stove, sampling the bastilla and enjoying Nadi’s art. Thanks to offerings like coffee mugs and note cards that carry the images of her works, everyone can afford a piece of local art.
   I had hoped to stay for Rae Ann Kumelos’s story of the Reindeer, but there was just so much left to do.
   Outside Cort Gallery, Kay Gaston displayed her handcrafted dolls and jewelry made from fused glass. Kay has married these two talents with a group of pieces of jewelry in the shape of dolls. I would love one of these from Santa!
   Joining Kay was Jeri Burzin with her lovely photography. A shot of a wood duck particularly caught our eyes. The reflections in the water have a very painterly quality and the image is clear as, well, a bright December day. One usually has to go to Minkler to see these two artists, so having them in Three Rivers for the day was especially nice.
   Although we’d planned a few more stops, the nasty cold I’ve been fighting off said it was time to go home. Darn!
   But, there’s more 1st Saturday to come in 2010. I’ll be there!

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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