1995 ~ March 2005
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In the News -
Friday, JUNE 3, 2005
Only in the June 3 print edition:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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