News and Information
for residents and visitors
Three Rivers,
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks,
Lemon Cove and Woodlake
Kaweah Kam

In the News - Friday, DECEMBER 29, 2006

Yes, Kaweah, there
is a Santa Claus!

   In the beginning, it was another unfortunate saga of, if it’s not nailed down then someone will steal it. At least that’s what happened last February at the Kaweah Post Office when a thief pried loose an antique mailbox that had adorned the façade of the tiny little building for as long as anyone could remember.
   The 1950s vintage mailbox for outgoing letters was never recovered nor immediately replaced. According to the Three Rivers postmaster, who oversees the Kaweah station, that type of wall-mounted receptacle was no longer available from the Postal Service.

  “Since that outside box disappeared, my customers have been using the mail slot inside or handing them to me at the window,” said Virpi Takala, the contract postmaster who operates what is believed to be the smallest, continuously operating postal station in the United States.
   Then, the week before Christmas, a similar vintage and freshly painted mailbox suddenly reappeared as more evidence that, in Three Rivers, the Santa spirit of giving is very real this holiday season.

  “From the first I heard that the box was missing I started looking around on the Internet,” said a Three Rivers man who wishes to remain anonymous. “I didn’t see the right mailbox until recently when a similar one finally showed up on eBay.”
   That’s when the anonymous donor tendered the successful bid and the conspicuous antique was shipped to Three Rivers.
Dave King, a Three Rivers resident and an industrial arts instructor at Visalia Adult School, secured the box to its familiar place on the porch of the historic post office, which is also a local tourist attraction.

  “It is certainly a wonderful life we live here in Three Rivers,” said Kathleen McCleary, the owner who leases the property for use as a postal station. “Folks see a need and, whether it’s big or small, somehow the job just seems to get done.”

Newspaper box

found, returned

   Almost before the ink could dry on last week’s issue of the Commonwealth the familiar green newspaper box that had been missing for the past week was recovered. The box, looking a little battered, but none the worse for wear, was delivered to the newspaper office on Friday morning.
   Leah Schwarz, a Three Rivers mom, was walking with her two children when she spied the box in the river near the North Fork Bridge.

  “From where the box came to a rest, it looks like somebody just threw it off the bridge,” Leah reported. “I can’t imagine why someone would want to do that…we’re just happy to bring it back here and see it returned.”
   Kathy Casey, TKC circulation manager, made some minor repairs to the box prior to placing it back in service at the entrance to the Cherokee Oaks neighborhood. The weatherproof boxes retail for $60 and cost another $30 to ship from an East Coast outlet.

  “I am sure those folks who use the neighborhood outlet to pick up their paper each Friday will be pleased to see that the box was returned,” Kathy said.
   A number of residents of Three Rivers’s largest subdivision who walk to the box each Friday can resume their normal routines. The return of the box, Kathy said, was a happy ending to an otherwise sad story of some senseless vandalism.

2006: Year

in Review

A year in the life of

Kaweah Country…condensed

(Only in the December 29 print edition: A review of the 50 Neighbor Profiles of 2006 and "Saying Goodbye," a listing of those who passed away in 2006.)

   And so another year is about to begin. Before that happens, however, let’s take some time to look back, reminisce, reflect, and learn from the old year.
   Here are the first five months and some memorable front pages. In other words, it’s all the news that fits in print. The next installment — June through December — will be published next week, as well as “The Faces,” the year in pictures.

   January 6— The year kicked off in Three Rivers much as it had for the past four years. More than a dozen hearty souls took the Polar Dip plunge into the chilly Kaweah River adjacent to the Gateway Restaurant. A little sunshine made the 50-degree temperature a little more bearable.
   Winter roared into Kaweah Country as two powerful storms moved swiftly across Northern California. Many coastal areas were flooded. Closer to home, there were some minor rockslides and downed trees but no major damage.
   The latest downpour had everything turning green. The saturated ground was leeching moisture everywhere and forecasters were predicting a very wet first quarter.
   January 13— A 66-year-old Three Rivers man was arraigned on charges stemming from a New Years’ Eve assault. It was alleged that the man fired a shotgun at his live-in girlfriend who was not injured by the blast.
   Jim Fansett, resident deputy, investigated a series of holiday burglaries. Three Rivers school also suffered a break-in and reportedly lost computer equipment, a digital camera, and a video camera.
   Supervisor Allen Ishida was voted vice-chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The appointment placed Ishida next in line to succeed Supervisor Worthley, the chairman, who was elected for 2006.
   January 20— It was discovered that heavy winds from the New Year’s storms had damaged two well-known giant sequoias. The Telescope Tree on the Congress Trail was toppled and a branch, measuring six feet in diameter, fell off the General Sherman Tree.
   Extensive damage was also discovered at the Runciman cabin in East Mineral King. A patrol ranger reported that a large tree had fallen across the historic structure, parts of which date from 1906.
   A movie, filmed on location in Tulare County, opened at theatres in Tulare and Porterville. A supernatural thriller, The Visitation starred Randy Travis and Kelly Lynch and also marked the big screen debut of Ron Hughart, a Woodlake police lieutenant.
   January 27— Craig Axtell, the new superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was introduced at a Three Rivers Town Meeting.

  “When you work anywhere in the Park Service, Sequoia is one of the places you hear about your entire career,” Axtell said.
Sequoia-Kings Canyon employees Bob Wilson, Dave Walton, Tim Bailey, and Roger Mayo received Distinguished Service Awards for their work in Operation No Grow, a marijuana-eradication program.
   Alcohol was a factor when a 61-year-old Three Rivers man rolled his pickup north of the Horse Creek Bridge at Lake Kaweah. He was charged with DUI but was not seriously injured.

   February 3— Details were revealed at a January 26 Town Meeting about the project to designate Sierra Drive (Highway 198) a scenic highway. It was also announced by Supervisor Allen Ishida that Tom Sparks, a director of the Three Rivers Community Services District, had been appointed to the board of the Tulare County Associated Governments (TCAG).
   Supervisor Ishida also announced the appointment of John Elliott, TKC publisher, to fill the District 1 vacancy on the Tulare County Planning Commission. Elliott is the first Three Rivers resident serve on the commission since Chet Crain served in that capacity in the 1960s.
   A Visalia contractor extracted a 10½-ton boulder from a house along South Fork Drive. The tons of debris, which included the huge boulder, came crashing down during the New Year’s Day storm.
   February 10— Earlier in the week, while the Kaweah Post Office was closed, a thief made off with the antique letterbox that was attached to the building on the front porch. Lori Ontiveros, Three Rivers postmaster, reported that these ca. 1950 boxes were no longer available for the Postal Service to provide as a replacement.
   Forensic scientists identified the body of a World War II airman recovered in October from 13,710-foot Mount Mendel in Kings Canyon National Park. The victim’s identity was not immediately revealed to the public.
   The Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a request by the J.G. Boswell Company to process an application for a general plan amendment. The amendment, if approved, could help expedite zoning changes that would be necessary if/when the company develops its Yokohl Ranch property.
   February 17— The Board of Supervisors named retired CDF chief Steve Sunderland to head up the newly created Tulare County Fire Department. At age 52, Chief Sunderland said he wasn’t quite ready for the proverbial easy chair.
   Tom Sparks, spokesperson for the Village Foundation, said the scenic highway was cruising right along. The group, he said, was busy preparing an assessment of the designated 16-mile stretch of Highway 198 from the park entrance at Ash Mountain to the intersection with Highway 216.
   February 24— Firefighters doused the burning contents of a trash truck in Cherokee Oaks. The fire was ignited by hot ashes that someone threw out with the trash.
   A series of wet storms dumped more rain and snow in Kaweah Country. Rainfall in Three Rivers reached 12.90 inches but forecasters were predicting that more storms were on the way.
Park officials announced the discovery of 27 new cave species. The critters were discovered living in the dark and were identified by biologists during a three-year study that inventoried 30 caves within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

MARCH 2006
   March 3— For the second time in two years, a thief removed property that belonged to the caretaker’s family who live at the Elliott Ranch seven miles up the North Fork. This time, a brazen burglar entered the residence during daylight hours and took a jewelry box. The loss was estimated at $3,000.
   Bob Wilson, a law enforcement specialist at Sequoia National Park retired after 33 years of government service. Ranger Bob played a crucial role in getting a handle on the marijuana problem in the local parks.
   Two 13-year-old girls were injured in a sledding accident on icy snow at Wolverton.
   Volunteers planted more than a dozen redbud trees at the Three Rivers Fire Station in memory of Glenn Howell.
   March 10— Kaweah was dealt another blast that had Jazzaffair promoters starting to sweat that maybe winter might last into the first weekend of April, this year’s festival dates. Snow accumulated for a few hours at 1,500 feet on the mountains that encircle Three Rivers.
   Sequoia Park officials announced the completion of a month-long program that restored a five-acre area in the East Fork drainage near the Mineral King Road. The restored plot was part of a complex of marijuana gardens covering 182 acres that had been eradicated in 2002.
   Farmers, planners, builders, public officials, and interested citizen advocates met in Visalia to ponder, where do we grow from here? A researcher from the Great Valley Center told the audience that the 19-county area from Redding to Bakersfield is expected to add 6.3 million people in the next 30 years.
   March 17— The campaign of John Zapalac, Woodlake’s police chief, was gathering momentum in the race for county sheriff especially in the outlying areas of the county.

  “When I look at what’s going on in the unincorporated areas of the county, there is a whole lot of room for improvement,” Chief Zapalac said. “We need comprehensive programs like we have in Woodlake to deal with the underserved areas.”
   The “Kaweah Scenic Highway Visual Assessment” was submitted to Caltrans for official review. The report, produced by the Village Foundation, was compiled principally by Roy Franson of Three Rivers.
   The snowpack was measured at 78 inches at Lodgepole, already 110 percent of the April 1 norm. The water content was 32 inches at 7,000 feet.
   March 24— High temperatures for Kaweah Country remained below normal for the first three weeks of March; the 75-degree reading on March 23 was the highest temperature since November.
   A new owner on Eggers Drive became acquainted with a large black bear that was using the previously unoccupied property as its home. The homeowner estimated the critter to weigh around 400 pounds and said that its lair below the home was more a curiosity than a nuisance.
   The remains of a World War II airman recovered October 2005 from a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park were identified as Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn. The aviation cadet died in a crash of an AT-7 Navigator aircraft in 1942.
   March 31— Supervisor Allen Ishida announced that First Five of Tulare County had approved a grant of $54,000 for the Three Rivers playground project adjacent to the Three Rivers Library. The monies were made available from local tobacco tax revenue.
   Captain Steve Green, CDF fire captain stationed at Three Rivers, made a daring river rescue of a dog. Green said the river, which was already reaching dangerous runoff levels, was no place to be for dogs or people unless in the company of whitewater professionals.
  James Vaughn of Springville celebrated his 100th birthday on February 18. He was one of three surviving members of Woodlake High School’s renowned Class of 1924.

APRIL 2006
   April 7— The 33rd Jazzaffair kicked off as the High Sierra Jazz Band welcomed Corey Gemme, their new trumpet player, for his first local festival. Gemme replaced Bryan Shaw who stepped aside after six years with the host band.
   Mary Scharn, assumed her new duties as Jazzaffair director. Scharn replaced Sue Mills, who served as the festival director and also as High Sierra’s manager.
   Jazzaffair weather was picture perfect even though storms earlier in the week dumped more than five inches of rain in some Three Rivers locations. One reader reported that his gauge on the Mineral King Road totaled 34.76 inches of rainfall for the current season.
   Local park officials announced that the NPS had concluded its investigation into the mysterious death of Santos Teixeira of Porterville. Teixeira, a Porterville pastor who was accused of sexual misconduct, was either pushed, jumped, or fell to his death from Moro Rock in November 2005. NPS investigators said there was insufficient evidence to determine what actually happened.
   April 21— Supervisor Allen Ishida introduced Steve Sunderland, the new chief of the Tulare County Fire Department.

  “We hope to be fully staffed and operational by July 2007,” Ishida said.
   Gasoline reached an all-time high for Three Rivers. The price of $315 for a gallon of unleaded regular was forecast to climb even higher.
   A nine-year-old child was struck and killed by a motorist in Woodlake. The victim had entered the roadway chasing a ball so the 57-year-old driver was not cited.
   A Three Rivers couple, heading westbound near Slick Rock, was seriously injured when their vehicle left the road and plummeted 150 feet. According to Officer Greg Fox, CHP investigator, there was no apparent reason why the driver suddenly made a U-turn.
   Fr. John Griesbach, director of the St. Anthony Retreat, was honored at the Lions 2006 Recognition Night. The annual award is presented each year on the eve of Jazzaffair to recognize a local for outstanding community service.
   April 28— A throng of familiar ropers and old friends returned for the 57th annual Three Rivers Lions Team Roping. Jim Waggoner, Tulare rancher and former brand inspector, produced another successful three-day roping event, much as he has done since 1991.
   The Ainley family story of their annual cattle drives since 1989 detailed how three generations gather to move cattle back and forth from Elderwood to higher pasture on leased Dry Creek land.

  “My grandpa Ainley and dad have taught me everything there is to know about cowboying,” said Ted Ainley.
   Ted’s grandfather, Frank Ainley, was honored recently at a retirement party in his honor. Frank retired from a 35-year career at Woodlake High School where he taught, coached, and served as athletic director.

MAY 2006
   May 5—
A new book, The Last Season, by Eric Blehm, made its Kaweah Country debut. The fascinating story revealed new details about the disappearance and death of Randy Morgenson. Morgenson, who worked 28 seasons as a backcountry ranger in the local parks, disappeared without a trace in 1996; his remains were discovered five years later.
   Lake Kaweah was rising at least a week ahead of schedule due to some warm weather and a whopping snow pack that was 180 percent above normal.
   Two new scholarships were endowed in the names of Jesse Sindelar (athletics) and Lorraine Young (art), both recently deceased and beloved members of the Three Rivers community.
   May 12— John Bryant, 52, was arrested and taken into custody at his Sunset Drive home in Three Rivers. Bryant, the former owner of the Naturedome, was charged with four felony counts and a misdemeanor related to illegal use of a security camera.
   A Sequoia Park ranger noticed a missing piece of garden art in a park campground. By the time the ranger returned to confront the suspect, the campsite where the piece was seen was vacant.
   Park rangers were recruiting “river rovers” as volunteers to warn visitors about the dangerous and deadly swift flowing rivers. Drowning is the number-one cause of death in the local parks.
   The newly organized Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce held its inaugural event. The mixer was held at the Three Rivers Historical Museum. There were more than 30 new members in attendance. The organization’s first nine-member board included Mark Tilchen as president.
   May 19– Heart’s Desire, the gift shop located in the former Naturedome, was burglarized. A thief or thieves escaped with a quantity of jewelry.
   John Bryant posted $250,000 bail and was awaiting a court date. He reportedly apologized to an Exeter shop owner who was recorded by a Naturedome security camera.
   Fire season was officially declared. Property owners were required for the first time by state law to clear at least 100 feet around each structure.
   Three Rivers School received a $35,000 technology grant. Teachers received such high-tech goodies as PC tablets, multimedia projectors, and digital cameras.
   A new mural designed by Nadi Spencer was completed as a student art project on the north wall of the TRUS bus barn.
   May 26– Sheriff Bill Wittman and challenger Chief John Zapalac faced off in a Three Rivers campaign forum. It was the only pre-election event that was attended by both the incumbent and the challenger. “Three Rivers is to be commended for having this forum,” said one Lindsay resident in attendance, “but why aren’t we doing this in any other towns around the county?” The local forum was sponsored and moderated by The Kaweah Commonwealth.
   Angler Larry Phillips of Exeter caught a 14-pound, 13-ounce bass near the second boat ramp at Lake Kaweah. The lunker was certified by the crew at Rack ‘Em Out, local fishing headquarters for bass fanatics.
   Local tourist facilities and attractions braced for a busy Memorial Day weekend, the official start to the summer visitor season in Three Rivers.
   The river was flowing at dangerous levels as local operators were warning novice visitors to stay clear of the water.

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
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
PHONE: (559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118 E-MAIL:
Entire contents of this website © Copyright 2003-2004 by The Kaweah Commonwealth