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, SEPTEMBER 16, 2005


Grass fire contained

to three acres

   A swift-moving grass fire on North Fork Drive in Kaweah caused some anxious moments for several residents who live nearby. On Saturday, Sept. 10, at 2:47 p.m., the Tulare County fire dispatcher received a 911 call reporting the blaze.
   Within minutes, CDF firefighters from Three Rivers were on the scene, joining in with several neighbors who were already fighting the flare-up with shovels and garden hoses. The blaze was sparked by exhaust from a tractor that was working on a waterline.
   Battalion Chief Felix Rodriguez from Woodlake served as incident commander. An air tanker from Porterville made a retardant drop while six area engines and two Cuesta hand crews who were covering Tulare County worked the blaze on the ground.
   At least two structures were threatened but none were damaged in the North Fork fire that consumed three acres of dry grass. Two days later, a similar blaze on property owned by Kaweah River Rock near Woodlake was sparked when a tractor hit a guide wire to a power pole.

Unsolved Mystery
Missing backpacker found

dead near Crescent Meadow

   Searchers in Sequoia National Park discovered the body of a man on Saturday, Sept. 10, who had been the subject of an intensive three-day search. Phillip Arens was reported missing by his brother on Wednesday, Sept. 7, after the pair returned from a four-day backpacking trip.
   Arens, 42, of Auburn, was last seen in the Crescent Meadow parking lot where his brother had left him with their packs while he hitched a ride to retrieve his car at a trailhead in Mineral King. When he returned five hours later, the packs were still there, but Arens was nowhere to be found.
   Park search-and-rescue teams began looking for Arens in the vicinity of Crescent Meadow. The search was later concentrated around the Sugar Pine Trail after Arens’s sunglasses were found there.
   A full-scale search involving more than 40 ground searchers, five dog teams, mounted patrol, and a helicopter traversed the steep terrain for the next several days. The body of Arens was discovered off the Sugar Pine Trail at the bottom of a steep embankment near Crescent Creek, less than a mile from the Crescent Meadow parking area.
   The cause of Arens’s death is still under investigation but personnel at the scene reported that there was no apparent trauma to the body. As a result of a past boating accident, Arens had scars on his face, a missing left eye, and some residual medical problems due to the head trauma sustained.
   It’s possible that this may have been a contributing factor in his death or, as nighttime temperatures were near freezing during that period, that he succumbed to hypothermia.
   Arens is the 11th fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks since March 2005, all of whom have been male. This is the most fatalities for a single year in the local parks in the last two decades and may be an all-time record for most deaths.


   Eleven people have perished in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year.
   Sunday, March 13— Richard Ferrari, 37, of Los Angeles fell 1,000 feet to his death in “The Notch” area of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
   Sunday, April 10— Patrick Wang, 27, of Hillsboro, Ore., sustained fatal injuries in a fall of about 1,000 feet, also near The Notch while returning from the 14,495-foot summit of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.
   Saturday, May 28— Bryan Coker of Lemoore was celebrating his 21st birthday with friends when he drowned in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in the Ash Mountain area of Sequoia National Park.
   Monday, June 27— The body of Peter Spoecker, 64, of Joshua Tree was retrieved from Evolution Lake near the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. He either drowned or died of hypothermia as early as Monday, June 13, after falling into the lake wearing his backpack and snowshoes.
   Monday, July 11— Noah Dominguez, 24, of Wilmington in Southern California drowned in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River near Buckeye Flat Campground in Sequoia National Park.
Wednesday, July 13— Eric Rausch, 31, of Princeton, N.J. apparently drowned while attempting to ford the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River in the Tableland region of Sequoia National Park’s backcountry.
   Thursday, July 28— Stephen McCullagh, 29, and Ryan Collins, 13, both of St. Helena in California’s Wine Country, died after they were struck by lightning in the Sandy Meadow area (elevation 10,700 feet) along the John Muir Trail in Sequoia National Park.
Monday, Aug. 1— Santos Aparecio, 44, of Los Angeles, drowned in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in the Ash Mountain area of Sequoia National Park.
   Wednesday, Aug. 31— Leon Caraco, 53, of Huntington Beach, apparently drowned after falling into Roaring River in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.
   Saturday, Sept. 10— The body of Phillip Arens, 42, of Auburn, was discovered in the Crescent Meadow area of Sequoia National Park after an intensive three-day search. He apparently succumbed to hypothermia after wandering or falling off-trail.

Sequoia returns to

Hammond station

   After building the Hammond Station in 1935 and immediately turning the property over to the State of California, the history of the Mineral King Road property comes full circle this week after Sequoia National Park officials announced an agreement to lease the 70-year-old adobe fire station. But before park fire crews occupy the facility for the 2006 fire season, the NPS awarded a $692,000 construction contract to Souza Construction of Visalia for rehabilitation of the historic buildings.
   Seismic work and modernization to accommodate Sequoia Park’s Crew 91, a 17-person hand-crew, and Engine 71, a seven-person engine crew, is expected to begin next month.

  “The Hammond Fire Station project is a wonderful partnership between the NPS and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that benefits both agencies and the community of Three Rivers,” said Russ Wilson, acting superintendent. “The project will improve the facilities for NPS crews, restore a historic structure and, most importantly, improve fire protection in Three Rivers by staffing an empty station in town.”
   The settlement of “Hammond” was founded at the turn of the 20th century to provide housing for Mount Whitney Power and Electric Company employees. It was so-named after the company’s founder, William Hammond.
   The Hammond Fire Station was built in 1935 by the NPS with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It has been determined eligible for inclusion in The National Register of Historic Places based on the research of Mark Thornton, a former CDF employee presently serving as a Tuolumne County supervisor.

Wanted: Professional packers

to operate in parks

   Prospective bidders are invited to attend a couple of upcoming tours of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks pack stations. The tours will offer an opportunity to examine area operations and provide information about the available contracts.
   On Thursday, Sept. 29, a tour of the Grant Grove and Cedar Grove stables will commence at 9 a.m.. Participants should meet at the Grant Grove Visitor Center; the tour is expected to last about eight hours.
   On Friday, Sept. 30, a tour of the Mineral King stables is planned. Meet at the Mineral King Ranger Station at 10 a.m. to attend this event. Once at Mineral King, the tour should take about two hours.
   A prospectus will be issued later in the fall detailing the available 10-year contracts on the facilities, all of which operate seasonally, from about May to October each year.
   Tim Loverin, as the current operator of the Cedar Grove and Grant Grove pack stations, has been provided a preferential right of renewal.
   The Mineral King Pack Station hasn’t been manned for the past three seasons due to lack of an operator.
   To register for the tours, contact Rich Huffman, concession management specialist, by Friday, Sept. 23, by calling 565-3101 or emailing

50 years ago:
’55 flood memories sought

   Since putting out the call for recollections and photographs of the Dec. 23, 1955, flood one week ago, the response thus far has been tremendous.
   In December 2005, The Kaweah Commonwealth will publish an issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of this local disaster.  To that end, we will continue to collect the memoirs of and photographs from those who were there.
   Please submit written memoirs to The Kaweah Commonwealth via email (, mail (P.O. Box 806), or drop off at the newspaper office (41841 Sierra Drive).
   Photos may be scanned and emailed, but the highest resolution possible should be retained. Photos may also be brought to the Commonwealth office.
   As with any submission, please include a contact name and phone number or email address in case we need to get in touch.

TRUS Foundation

hosts fun-filled evening

   If anyone wants to see Three Rivers at its best, the Three Rivers Union School Foundation’s annual fall fundraiser this Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Lions Arena is the place to do this. The evening promises to be lots of fun, and it’s for an excellent cause — Three Rivers School and its students.
   There will be live music, delicious food, cocktails, and live and silent auctions that will include superb arts and crafts from many talented local artists.
   The socializing begins at 4 p.m., and the weather is forecast to be perfect — clear, mid-80s, with a hint of fall in the air.
   Music will start early and play late. The Personables will be spinning out a delightful contemporary rendering of Big Band swing music — upbeat, optimistic, and foot-tappingly danceable.
   Locally legendary for his tri-tip, Felix Gonzales will be tending the barbecue, cooking up an army’s worth, which will be accompanied by teriyaki chicken, vegetarian chile relleno in a special sauce, and much more.
   The centerpiece of the evening is the auction, and it promises to be one of the best ever. Many Three Rivers artists have provided recent works, all of which will be on display prior to the opening bid and throughout the evening.
   It is this annual event that raises the most money for the Foundation, which, in turn, directly benefits Three Rivers School.
   And the money is well-spent. In fact, without it, TRUS wouldn’t have a band teacher. And a school without music is like a child without a smile.
   Please come, have a great time, and help the school.
   For tickets, call Pamela Lockhart, 561-3450, or Lee Crouch, 561-3363.
Bill Haxton of Three Rivers contributed this article.

WHS football begins

season on the road

   In last Friday night’s varsity football game, there were plenty of highlights for the Woodlake Tigers who ventured westward to play Tranquillity in the season opener. The game was really a tale of two halves, the first of which was won by Woodlake; the second dictated by the home team with help from the officials.
   When the final gun sounded, Woodlake was on the short end of a 32-20 score. But the Tranquillity Tigers and California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) may not have heard the last about this game. That’s because the Woodlake coaching staff is sending a videotape of the game in protest to CIF sectional officials.

  “I’m not one to complain about the officiating, but what happened out there was unbelievable,” said Brian Costa, head coach. “We actually dominated most of the game but after they called back three of our touchdowns and flagged us for more than 30 penalties there was no way we could possibly win.”
   Costa said the majority of the penalties were “phantom calls” and made it easy for Tranquillity, who won West Sierra League championships the past two seasons, to find a way to score enough points to overcome a six-point halftime deficit.
   Woodlake scored on short runs by seniors Souk Stephens (two yards) and Daniel Tiller (one yard). After Tranquillity scored its second TD in the second quarter, junior Carlos Acosta, a speedy wide receiver and kick return specialist, dashed 80 yards with the ensuing kickoff for the go-ahead score.
   But that was all the scoring Woodlake could muster as the visiting Tigers were blanked in the second half. Tranquillity’s Gerardo Villa scored two of his four touchdowns on the night in the second half and that was the extent of the game’s offense.
   But even with the questionable officiating, Costa saw plenty of positives that he says will translate to wins this season. With the return of Ryan Baker, junior quarterback and defensive safety, in time for this week’s Kingsburg game, the Tigers figure to be an even more formidable foe.

  “We have more depth this year than we have had in quite some time,” Costa said. “We can present multiple packages on offense and defense.”
   Last year’s Tigers finished with only one win, but Costa, now in his second year as Woodlake’s head coach, is certain that this team is a big improvement.

  “Some of our guys really stepped up in that first game and played outstanding, Costa said. “Chance Carrizosa played some great linebacker on defense and Eddie Perez led the offensive line in blocking. I also liked the play of our skilled position players and the fact that we didn’t turn the ball over. Tiller and Acosta were very impressive.”
   In the junior varsity game, Woodlake thumped Tranquillity 28-14. The JVs are led by Matt McMillan, frosh quarterback.
   Friday night’s games at Kingsburg are scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. For driving directions, call 564-3307.

Local couple rides

the trail of Chief Joseph

   The Chief Joseph Trail Ride is considered one of the most historic trail rides in the U.S. today. Since 1964, the Appaloosa Horse Club has retraced, as closely as possible, the 1,300-mile trek that the Nez Perce took in 1877 during their “flight to freedom” to avoid being forced onto a reservation.
   The Chief Joseph is a progressive ride, meaning that it moves camp daily and yearly to follow the exact trail of the retreat. Each year, the ride covers 100 miles during a one-week period and takes 13 years to complete in its entirety.
   The ride started again for its third consecutive 13 years in July 2004. Joining 200 other riders and their registered appaloosas in this most current feat were Steve and Christy Wood of Three Rivers.
   The Woods have made a commitment to participate each year through 2016 and will eventually ride through four states — Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. They finished their second week in as many years on July 17 to 23, 2005.

  “This is not a pleasure ride through a meadow,” explained Christy Wood. “You and your horse better be in top shape to handle a 4,500-foot ascent up the side of Hells Canyon, only to descend the next day down the other side to the Salmon River.”
   The extreme terrain and the canyon and river crossings are a true test of teamwork between horse and rider, she said.
   Although a doctor, veterinarian, farrier, water, portable toilets, and catered meals are provided, there are no showers, phones, or other modern luxuries. Of the couple hundred riders and their mounts who begin the weeklong expedition each year, about one-fourth drop out by week’s end.

Chief Joseph and the appaloosa

   Chief Joseph was the tribal chief of the Nez Perce nation. He peacefully resided in the Wallowa Valley in northeast Oregon.
   There he raised the coveted appaloosa horse that was known for its speed and agility in difficult terrain. The quality of the appaloosa was known as early as 1806 with notes acknowledging its existence that came from Lewis and Clark during their expedition.
   Chief Joseph had a peace treaty with the U.S. government that allowed the Nez Perce to stay in the Wallowa Valley.
   In 1877, a conflict between some white settlers and a few Indian braves in Idaho marked the beginning of the Nez Perce war. When the U.S. Cavalry attempted to force Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce nation onto a reservation, they retreated but not to the reservation.
   For more than three months that summer and fall, Joseph led his followers on a 1,300-mile or more journey, which is the route of the Appaloosa Horse Club’s Chief Joseph Trail Ride today. The band outmaneuvered the pursuing troops, which outnumbered Joseph’s warriors by at least three to one.
   He was admired by many whites for his humane treatment of prisoners, his concern for women, children, and the elderly, and because he purchased supplies from ranchers and storekeepers rather than stealing them.
   The Nez Perce were finally surrounded in Montana within 40 miles of the Canadian border. On Oct. 5, 1877, Joseph surrendered and delivered an eloquent speech:

  “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

Prescribed fire

ongoing in Giant Forest

   Just in case someone is living in a bubble and hasn’t noticed, the Park Service ignited a prescribed fire on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Thus the smoky mornings experienced by local residents this week.
   The ignitions of the current “Quarry Fire” were scheduled to continue for four or five days, but due to the smoke accumulation in the Middle Fork canyon, park officials made the decision Thursday to postpone the ignitions.

  “There are approximately 75 firefighters on scene [Thursday] to hold and patrol the burn,” said Jody Lyle, parks fire information officer. “Beginning tomorrow, the forecast calls for improving conditions, which will bring westerly winds. With the weather shift, crews plan to finish ignitions by Friday [Sept. 16].”
   The 352-unit is located within the Giant Forest grove. Trail closures will be marked.

  Reducing smoke exposure-- The following disclaimer appears on the local Park Service’s prescribed-fire press releases to warn those in the smoke’s path:

  “Breathing smoke is not healthy for anyone, but people with asthma and other respiratory diseases are at greater risk. If you are sensitive to smoke, limit your outdoor activities or plan them for times and places with low smoke levels.

  “Up-slope breezes occur during the day that will often take smoke into higher elevations. At night, these winds change direction and bring smoke down-slope to lower elevations.

  “Park residents and visitors in the Giant Forest and Lodgepole area should keep windows in buildings closed during the burn.

  “Residents of Three Rivers should keep their windows closed at night.”

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