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

  Celebrating 10 years:

March 1995 ~ March 2005

For the past decade,

The Kaweah Commonwealth

has been telling readers

things they won't read, hear,

or see anywhere else!


In the News - Friday, JUNE 3, 2005

Only in the June 3 print edition:




Swimmer drowns

in the Kaweah
Snowmelt causes

dangerous river flows

   The roar of the river rushing down-canyon. The buzz of holiday traffic. The chatter of birds at peak migration. The engine of a lawn mower and a weedeater. These are the sounds of a Memorial Day holiday weekend in Three Rivers.
   But it was the steady drone of a helicopter flying low above the Kaweah River channel that cast a pall over the day on Sunday. And it signaled once again to Three Rivers residents what a wild, natural place this is to live.
   On Saturday, May 28, a 21st-birthday celebration took a tragic turn. It was Bryan Coker’s birthday and he wouldn’t live to see another.
   Twelve friends from the Lemoore Naval Air Station traveled to Sequoia National Park to celebrate the day at the river and, park officials report, alcohol was being consumed. About 5 p.m., just before leaving, Coker and a friend took one last dip in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River at a semi-secluded swimming hole called the “Research Pools.” The pair jumped in from rocks just upriver; the friend stayed in the calm water and reached the shore without incident. Bryan was last seen in the rapids, his head above water but quickly being swept downstream by the fast-moving current.
   In the best of conditions, when water levels have dropped and flows have slowed, the aquamarine pools that attracted this group to the riverside at Ash Mountain provide the visitor with optimal river-swimming conditions. But swollen with afternoon snowmelt in the spring and early summer, these pools are deadly.
   Within minutes of receiving the emergency call from the Lemoore group, park rangers were on the scene and initiating search efforts. Soon, CDF personnel, a Tulare County Sheriff’s Department swiftwater rescue team, and a Yosemite helicopter joined the search. The search-and-rescue chopper made numerous passes over the river in case the victim was clinging to a rock or bush. The search was suspended at nightfall.
   The search operation resumed Sunday morning. An NPS contract helicopter joined in and, at 5 p.m., 24 hours after he had vanished, Coker’s body was spotted near the White Horse Inn, more than four miles downstream from where he had entered the water.
   Almost concurrent with this emergency, a report was received of two children struggling in the river about one mile downstream from the Coker incident. The helicopter headed downriver to offer assistance. The Park Service reported that this event was “quickly resolved.”
   Coker’s naval commander identified the body. The victim’s mother, who lives in Norman, Okla., arrived in Lemoore on Sunday evening to make the funeral arrangements.

Lake Kaweah seeps

toward Three Rivers

   For Phil Deffenbaugh, general manager of Lake Kaweah, these are exciting times. With each passing hour, the storage of the local reservoir increases. How and when it will reach the unprecedented “full” (elevation 714.50 feet) level is subject to conjecture and very much dependent on the whims of Mother Nature.
   For now, the best guess is that Lake Kaweah will be filled as high as it’s going to this season on June 10.

  “We [lake officials] want to keep it six inches from the top for the testing and monitoring of the new facilities at Terminus Dam,” Deffenbaugh said. “The water is coming up at nearly one foot per day, but the last few feet take longer because the top of the basin is wider than the bottom.”
   At 1 a.m. on Saturday, May 28, the gage behind the Three Rivers Chevron read 5,159 cubic feet per second. That benchmark stands as the peak flow thus far in the current season.

  “I know I may be going out on a limb, but I think we have peaked,” Deffenbaugh said. “Whether or not we have peaked, there is still a lot more water that will end up in Lake Kaweah.”
   The most noticeable part of the increased storage in Three Rivers is all the water filling in behind the new dike at the Best Western. The bottom of the dike is at the 702-foot elevation level.
   Lake Kaweah water first touched that structure on May 26. As a result of the inundation, the Cobbleknoll landscape is being transformed into a veritable everglade with mountains.

  “The most significant change this year is that all the property between the Best Western and Slick Rock is now owned by the public, Deffenbaugh said. “Currently, it’s a real nice no-fee area to enjoy a unique backwater environment.”

Local jazz club

provides scholarships

   In keeping with its mission to pass the appreciation of jazz music onto the next generation, the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club recently awarded $5,550 in scholarships to graduating seniors and two other students to assist in furthering their music education.
   One Three Rivers senior — Travis Groeber — and four from Woodlake — Rudy Castillo, Lori Dowell, Michael Fosberg, and Walter Martinez — received scholarships based on their academics, music participation, school activities, and community service.
   In addition, two Three Rivers students received scholarships to attend the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Camp, which will be held July 24 to 30 at the Sly Park Education Center in the Pollock Pines area of El Dorado National Forest. Kylie Castro, who will be a sophomore at Woodlake High School, and Tian Newman, who will be a senior at Exeter High, were selected to attend the camp.
   Sponsored by the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Club since 1985, the camp hosts just 90 campers from ages 12 to 18 each year; 10 per instrument. Kylie will be in the vocal section; Tian plays alto saxophone and flute.
   Local scholarships are important in assisting high school students to meet the expenses of a college education. The Three Rivers Lions Club and Three Rivers Woman’s Club have provided scholarships to graduating seniors at both Woodlake and Exeter for many years.
   In addition, there are the Cynthia Lockhart-Mummery Memorial, Fred and Rena Ogilvie Continuing Education, Jack Scharn Memorial, Margaret Stoppel Memorial, Nadi Spencer Art Encouragement Award, and Trudy Schuckert Memorial scholarships, all named for, and funded by, past or present Three Rivers residents. Dozens of other scholarships originate in Woodlake and recognize qualifying Three Rivers students.

On the 3R

business front

   During the past Memorial Day weekend, every available guesthouse, room, cabin, and campsite for miles around was overflowing with visitors. Local businesses were ringing up some impressive receipts, especially on Sunday.
   Remarkably, just in time for the long weekend, the price of gasoline actually dipped 10 cents a gallon. There is no doubt that gasoline prices, even if they remain high, will continue to fuel a local flurry of visitors from Southern California and the Bay Area because Kaweah Country is a very appealing short trip.
   Some of these tourists stopping in the newspaper office looking for general information are actually on a hunting trip. These hunters aren’t dressed in camouflage and they’re not looking to bag a trophy deer or other wild game. They’re looking for real estate.
   These latest bargain hunters are not unlike those who attend yard sales but they have bigger pocketbooks and higher credit scores. They are here in greater numbers than you might imagine and the dollars they are spending are trickling down to nearly every local business. Real estate remains hot right now and it’s fanning the flames of a local economy that’s about to flare up with a strong summer season.
   Last week, after publishing our annual visitor guide and community directory listing all area businesses, we noted that even with several recent closings, there was a net loss of only one business. Examples of this trend are the new owners that have acquired Whitewater Contemporary Arts and Crafts and The Cabin.
   Sunny Fields, who recently opened the new Whitewater gallery, has virtually transformed the aging property into an exciting showplace. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint, a new perspective, and a little capital can do for a place.
Sunny’s gallery has already garnered some impressive art but she says there is room for more. The gallery is destined to fill a very important niche as Three Rivers’s premier place to shop for local art.
   Today (Friday, June 3), the Cabin officially reopens under new ownership. Some local businesses have been on the block for more than a year — this one sold within two weeks.
   Stop by to meet and greet Robin, the new manager. Oh sure, the colorful Ken Woodruff and his charming wife, Bette, are now history and they will be missed. Not to worry. The new ownership has pledged to maintain all that we have come to be addicted to at this riverside haven that in just two short years has become one of Three Rivers’ most indispensable establishments.

Dana Gonzalez
1969 ~ 2005

   Dana Carol Gonzalez of Three Rivers died unexpectedly on Friday, May 27, 2005. She was 35.
   A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated today (Friday, June 3) at 1 p.m. at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, 599 N. Valencia Blvd., Woodlake. Burial will be at Woodlake District Cemetery.
   Dana was born Aug. 17, 1969, to Richard and Wanda Downing in Carson City, Mich. She was raised and educated in western Michigan.
   Dana attended Memphis (Tenn.) State University and Ferris (Mich.) State University. She met her husband-to-be, Felix Gonzalez, while working in southeastern Michigan. They were married Sept. 14, 1996.
   The couple’s two daughters were born while they were residing in Michigan. In 2000, the family moved to Central California and, three years ago, they relocated to Three Rivers.
   She was a caterer and formerly a local Avon representative.
   Dana is survived by her husband of eight years, Felix; daughters Felicia, 8, and Veronica, 6; her parents, Richard and Wanda Downing of Big Rapids, Mich.; her brothers, Wayne Downing and wife Gigi of Big Rapids and Barry Downing and wife Wendy of New Baltimore, Mich.; and her grandmother, Stacey Mae Miesler of Memphis, Tenn.
   In lieu of flowers, donations may be mailed to: The Gonzalez Family Account, c/o Bank of the Sierra-Three Rivers Branch, P.O. Box 1930, Porterville, CA 93258; or deliver in person to 40884 Sierra Drive, Three Rivers.

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
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