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  In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 10, 2004


Comings and goings

in Three Rivers

A photo-journal of business news:

Every season, businesses come and go in Three Rivers. The Sequoia Grill opened briefly on August 27, but quickly proved too overwhelming a proposition. This time the reason for closing was too much business; sometimes it may not be enough. Recently, there has been a flurry of remodeling of existing buildings in an effort to provide lodging for visitors. The trickle-down effect of less facilities in Sequoia National Park is prompting more small-business owners to improve their Three Rivers properties...




Retreat plans major expansion


   In 2002, when the Franciscans announced they would vacate the St. Anthony Retreat, the future of the property was clouded by uncertainty. Would another spiritual group operate the aging facility or would the valuable 50-acre hilltop property be sold to developers?
   Within a few months after the Franciscan monks of Santa Barbara announced their intention to leave, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno entered into negotiations to acquire and operate the property. The changeover of the St Anthony Retreat from the “Frannies,” as they are affectionately called by other Catholic clergy, to the Fresno diocese officially began Oct. 1, 2003.
   Bishop John T. Steinbock, who is head of the Fresno diocese comprised of 600,000 Catholics who live in eight Central California counties, agreed to lease the Three Rivers property after receiving enthusiastic support from his 86 parishes.
The current lease calls for the Diocese of Fresno to pay the Franciscans $20,000 annually for five years. At the end of the five-year lease, the $100,000 will be applied to the property's $2.5 million purchase price.
   The bishop appointed the Father John Griesbach, a diocese priest and native of Tulare, as the new group's first retreat director at St. Anthony.

  “In all my years of coming to Three Rivers as a boy and then after my ordination as a priest in 1976, I just never thought I would end up here at St. Anthony's,” said Fr. Griesbach. “It’s so beautiful here. I just couldn’t imagine the Frannies ever wanting to leave Three Rivers."
   But the renowned Franciscans, who two centuries ago founded the California missions, cited dwindling numbers within their ranks as the biggest reason why it was time to leave Three Rivers. For the Fresno Catholics, it was an ideal opportunity to acquire a property that could help strengthen the spiritual life of the entire community.
   To further that goal, Bishop Steinbock approved an ambitious five-year plan to raise $7 million to purchase the retreat center, renovate existing buildings, and to build a youth camp and conference center.
   The fundraising campaign, “Our Faith, Our Family, Our Future,” is set to begin in 2005 and has already received a $1 million pledge. The $100,000 to lease the Three Rivers property has also been donated.
   The youth facility will be built on 17 adjacent acres donated by Mrs. Ollie Craig from her Salt Creek ranch, which is adjacent to the retreat property. The new construction will include a lodge, four 40-bunk dorms, riding stables, a swimming pool and, if funds become available, an amphitheater.
   The current facilities more lend themselves to adult accommodations, Griesbach said, while the new dorms could house up to 120 youths and their adult counselors.

  "We're exploring the feasibility of acquiring more land from the Craig Ranch that would contain the amphitheater,” Griesbach said. “We would be open to other community uses for the facilities, especially the amphitheater.”
   Today, the St. Anthony mission remains the same as it was during the 40-year tenure of the Franciscans: to offer a peaceful, comfortable setting for individuals or groups seeking a contemplative environment for meetings or for personal prayer and reflection.
   Griesbach said the retreat center is hosting Sunday’s open house to explain its future plans but, more importantly, to become better acquainted with St. Anthony’s old friends as well as make some new ones.

  “St. Anthony’s will continue to maintain strong connections with a wide variety of Christian and other religious groups, educational institutions, service organizations, and the Three Rivers community,” Griesbach said. "As a diocesan retreat center, it also becomes an extension of every Catholic church throughout the Central Valley."

Hot Pot Spot:
Latest garden is largest yet

   If it’s September, it must be harvest time. And it’s not corn or cotton, but in Tulare County, if marijuana was a legal crop, it would be a top-producing commodity.
  On Thursday, Sept. 2, National Park Service rangers and cooperating law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Justice’s CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting), eradicated another 18,926 marijuana plants that were being illegally cultivated in the vicinity of the Mineral King Road in Sequoia National Park. The pre-Labor Day raid marked the largest haul to date within the boundaries of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
   A Blackhawk helicopter with a crew from Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) conducted a predawn reconnaissance of the area using Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR). The use of infrared helps officers determine if the gardens are occupied by using heat-seeking technology.

  “The infrared was used successfully last year in similar operations,” said Alexandra Picavet, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks information officer. “The crew can determine locations of individuals from their body heat, campfires, and other signs that growers might be present in the gardens.”
Picavet said that it is critical when officers enter the gardens that the growers or their armed guards do not surprise them. One Dinely Drive resident said when she heard the noise of the pre-dawn raid she knew somebody or someplace was under attack.
   The marijuana farming operation was well-financed as evidenced by the numerous encampments. Several acres of underbrush had been removed to provide cover for the pot plants.
   Firearms and other weapons were seized along with evidence that hundreds of pounds of fertilizers and pesticides had been used. Information gathered during the arrest of four Mexican nationals during a raid in August helped officers make this bust.
   Several individuals are now under investigation for conspiracy to grow marijuana on public lands. The plants removed in the September 2 operation were near maturity with an estimated street value in excess of $75 million.
   Other eradications in the East Fork drainage of Sequoia National Park were continuing through Wednesday, Sept. 8. In addition to the season-long destruction to, and damage of, natural resources, the illicit pot-farming operations have created a growing danger to people who could inadvertently walk into the vicinity of a guarded garden.
   It is speculated that those who tend the gardens become quite territorial this time of year because their “paychecks” or “end-of-season bonuses” largely depend on the successful removal and subsequent delivery of the illegal harvest.
   The pot plantations have mostly been found between 2,500 and 6,000 feet elevation in the vicinity of various year-round water sources. Harvesting must be completed before the nighttime temperatures dip to the near-freezing level.
   Anyone with information about suspicious activity in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is asked to call the anonymous toll-free hotline at 1-888-NPS-CRIME (1-888-677-2746). If activity is suspected in areas outside the parks boundaries, call the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, 730-2951.

Are you ready for some football?

Robinson Field to be dedicated

at Friday’s home game



   The start of the local football season is tonight (Friday, Sept. 10), and hopes are high for a successful run for the Woodlake Tigers. No matter what the outcome this season for Coach Brian Costa’s varsity squad, it will be difficult to match the pomp and circumstance that’s building around tonight’s program, the first of a 10-game regular season schedule.
   According to Frank Ainley, Tiger Athletic director, there’s a lot more interest than usual in Woodlake’s home opener. The attention of high school football fans all over the Valley will be riveted to the ceremony dedicating Leo Robinson Field that will take place between the junior varsity and varsity games.
   Leo Robinson, who passed away in 2002, won more games than any other Valley high school football coach. He served as Woodlake’s head coach for 40 seasons on the field that, on this special evening, will be named in his honor.
   For the affair, several hundred of Robinson’s former players will return to their alma mater in tribute to their former coach. Robinson also coached baseball and was a longtime teacher at Woodlake High.
   Ainley said Coach Robinson was a winner both on the field and off and he deserves to have the football field named in his honor. School officials are expecting a standing-room-only crowd of more than 4,000 for the ceremony and the two football games.
Coach Costa, who began his Woodlake career as Robinson’s defensive coordinator and is in his second year as his successor, knows only too well the significance of this historic opener.

  “Friday night is going to be a very big event for Woodlake football,” Costa said.
   But Costa’s biggest challenge will be trying to have his Tigers ready to play a powerful Tranquillity team.

  “A couple of years ago, playing Tranquillity was considered an easy win,” Costa said. “But a new coach and a group of experienced players have really turned that program around.”
   The turnaround is due in part to Coach Willie Adney, who like his Tiger counterpart, is also in his second season with his Tranquillity Tigers. Last year, Woodlake sputtered at Tranquillity and were stunned by the season-opening loss.
   In 2003, Tranquillity went on to win a co-league championship shared with Caruthers and Templeton. Woodlake advanced to the second round of the Sequoia division’s small-school playoffs, losing in the second round at San Joaquin Memorial, while Tranquillity lost in the opening round of the Sierra division match-ups.
   This season, Tranquillity is expected to win the newly organized Northwest Sierra League and be much improved. Last week, they trounced Strathmore, a Sierra division opponent.

  “Their defense [Tranquillity] is extremely quick and really likes to apply pressure,” said Costa. “We’re going to have to do a better job getting off the ball on offense.”
   Much of the hopes of the Tigers’ retooled offense are riding on the broad shoulders of Ryan Baker, sophomore quarterback.

  “Baker has looked pretty good at quarterback and also at free safety on defense,” Costa said. “Souk Stephens and Aaron Payne have also been standouts in the preseason.”
   Soukarana Stephens of Three Rivers is a speedy junior who brings a breakaway dimension to the offensive backfield. Payne, who is also a junior from Three Rivers, has taken over at one of the inside linebacker spots.

  “We look a lot better at this point than we did a year ago,” Costa said. “Once we get a game under our belts, we’ll be able to see what this team really looks like.”
   Under new Central Section rules, any team that says “yes” may participate in the playoffs. While Woodlake, with a current enrollment of 737, will stay in Division IV for the post-season, East Sequoia League foes Coalinga, Dinuba, and Exeter all must compete in Division III with schools that typically have 1,000-plus enrollment.
   The kickoff for Friday’s junior varsity game vs. Tranquillity is 5:30 p.m. For more information or ticket prices, 564-3307.

SNHA receives

Bank of the Sierra grant

Sierra Business Conference

will address local issues

   Over the summer, Bank of the Sierra reviewed 38 Sierra Grant applications and awarded more than a dozen community-service organizations with thousands of dollars. Among these, Sequoia Natural History Association was awarded $1,000 to further its goals of providing educational programs and materials to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
   Other grant recipients are:
American Lung Association-Air Quality Index: $2,500.
Big Brothers Big Sisters: $2,500.
Boy Scouts of America-Sequoia Council: $1,000.
Buck Rock Foundation: $1,000.
Central California Family Crisis Center: $2,500.
Children’s Hospital Central California: $2,500.
Exeter High School-Renaissance Committee: $1,000.
Families in Transition: $2,000.
Fresno Metropolitan Museum: $2,500.
Habitat for Humanity-Crossroads Project: $2,500.
Happy Trails Riding Academy: $2,000.
Lindsay Community Theatre: $8,250.
Special Olympics: $2,500
Yellow Ribbon Youth Suicide Prevention Project: $2,000.

Sierra Business Conference
   Recognizing the unique aspects and challenges of doing business in the Tulare County valley and foothills, the Bank of the Sierra has organized the Sierra Business Conference. This is the first time the event has been held, but the bank plans to make it an annual event.
   The Sierra Business Conference is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 24, from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Porterville’s Veterans Memorial Building, 1900 W. Olive Ave. Specifically geared to businesses in southeastern Tulare County, the conference’s agenda will include speakers who will address local, regional, and national economics, California politics, business management, and legislative issues.
   For more information, call Hope Attenhofer, Bank of the Sierra director of marketing, 782-4900.

Public Lands Day is

fee-free in parks

   Traditionally celebrated to honor the founding of the National Park Service in August, the annual Fee Free Day will be observed this year on Saturday, Sept. 18. This coincides with National Public Lands Day.
   On this day, all units of the National Park System — including Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks — that normally charge an entrance fee will instead offer free admission.
   Sequoia National Forest, which administers a joint-fee collection program at the Big Stump entrance to Kings Canyon National Park will also observe the daylong fee exemption.
   The waiver of fees is only for admission to the parks. Recreation-use fees, such as camping, Crystal Cave tours, or backcountry permits, still apply.
   Always free are the ranger programs that educate and entertain park visitors. Although most areas of the parks don’t offer programs after Labor Day or cut back to just weekends, in the Giant Forest and Lodgepole areas, programs are offered daily through September.
   For those visitors who would still like to contribute to the parks on the fee-free day, volunteers from the Sequoia Fund, a nonprofit parks partner, will be distributing donation envelopes at both entrance stations and at visitor centers. These donations will be used to support ongoing Sequoia Fund projects.


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