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In the News - Friday, September 5, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Only in the Aug. 29, 2008,

print edition:

Kaweah Country

Visitor Guide

Summer~Fall 2008


One dead, one injured in
Generals Highway accident

   It’s a mountain road that is not for the faint of heart. But the road signs posted at various steep places along the Generals Highway are an ominous warning about the possible danger of the overuse of brakes when descending from Giant Forest.
   It was overheated brakes that apparently played a role in a tragic accident that occurred Friday, Aug. 29, at the beginning of the busy Labor Day weekend. Richard Bach, 76, of New Rochelle, N.Y., was driving down the Generals Highway, heading back to Three Rivers with his 67-year-old female companion.
   His 1976 GMC converted van camper had lots of upgrades but apparently was experiencing some overheated brakes and boiling brake fluid just above Hospital Rock. According to Tim Bailey, a Sequoia ranger who served as incident commander and assisted with the investigation at the scene, Bach stopped at the Hospital Rock parking area to let his vehicle cool down.
   Unbeknownst to Bach, all his brake fluid was gone and almost from the moment he continued down the roadway, he was completely without brakes. Several motorists who witnessed Bach’s vehicle reported a motorist driving erratically down the Generals Highway below Hospital Rock.
   There was lots of oncoming traffic just prior to the 911 call that came into park dispatch at 3:57 p.m. Bach apparently lost control, swerved into a gully and hit a rock and a tree before coming to a stop 12 to 15 feet below the roadway.
   It only took a few minutes for park medics to reach the scene. They immediately began CPR on the victim but he died at the scene. The female passenger was transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital where she was treated for a bone fracture and later released.
   It’s difficult to know how any motorist might react in a similar situation, but according to one commercial driver who negotiates the steep sections of the Generals Highway daily, the only way to stop with no brakes is to put the transmission in park and turn off the engine. There will still be a wreck, the driver said, but the impact will hopefully be lessened.
   Whether in a vehicle with an automatic transmission or a stick-shift, when descending steep roads such as the Generals Highway and the Mineral King Road, it is advisable to drive in the lowest gear possible to avoid using the brakes at all.

  “Driving the park roads can be very dangerous even in the best of situations,” said Alexandra Picavet, information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “If your vehicle is experiencing mechanical problems pull off the roadway and park rangers will be along soon to assist or call for a tow truck.”

East Fork camper rescued

   In the busy summer season, unoccupied sites in the established campgrounds are sometimes few and far between. But one couple’s search for just the right site proved to be a little too far off the beaten path.
   Actually, the secluded spot 5.3 miles up the Mineral King Road was fine until on the morning of Friday, Aug. 29, when the unidentified campers tried to climb the steep canyon walls that had sheltered their makeshift camp.
   Capt. Scott McCorkill of the Tulare County Fire Department was the first responder on the scene and said the site looks very inviting from the Mineral King Road. The couple, he said, parked their vehicle at a large turnout called “the Helispot” and followed a rough cattle trail down to the East Fork river about 500 feet below.

  “After breaking camp, they tried to climb out when the 43-year-old male camper became stuck on a narrow rock ledge with loose material that threatened to give way at any moment,” Capt. McCorkill recounted. “His female companion was able to climb out so she took their pickup and drove down the road to find help.”
   According to Capt. McCorkle, the woman drove straight to the Tulare County Fire Station on South Fork Drive. After hearing about the predicament of the woman’s companion, Capt. McCorkle called for assistance and drove up to the scene where the other camper was clinging to his precarious perch.
   After units from Cal Fire and the National Park Service also arrived, one of the rescuers was lowered 35 feet down the side of the cliff and secured the victim in a harness. He was then pulled to safety, a little shaken but uninjured.

  “From the road, the site appears to be a nice place to camp along the river,” Capt. McCorkill said. “There are no fences or signs posted, but apparently it’s much easier getting down than getting back up again.”

$28 million COS bond

measure on 3R ballot

   Tough economic times call for stringent measures, and though it might seem ill-timed for a property owner struggling to make ends meet, the proposed College of the Sequoias bond is critical to economic recovery and the long-term future of Tulare County, according to Bob Keenan of Three Rivers, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Tulare/Kings Counties.

  “College of the Sequoias plays a critically important role in providing job and career training and re-training,” Keenan said. “The expansion is needed to keep pace with growth, and we must provide an education that is relevant, current, and accessible, especially in these economic times. COS does that, and we are pleased to help.”
   The help came in the form of a donation from the building association to the Friends of COS, a Visalia nonprofit organized to get the bond measure on the November ballot passed. The Friends of COS is chaired by Harry Wood, a retired Visalia pastor and former Visalia Chamber of Commerce “Man of the Year.”
   Among other distinguished citizens who are heading up the Friends’ effort to get the bond issue passed is Sharon Sheltzer, a Visalia architect and former Three Rivers resident who was instrumental in securing a grant for the local bike lanes. The bond — Measure I for the Visalia district that includes Three Rivers voters — which requires 55 percent of the vote to pass, will allow COS to expand classroom space, campus safety, and upgrade outdated technology and electrical systems at the Visalia campus.
   If the measure passes, among the improvements will be upgrades to the new Allied Health Building, security enhancements like emergency phones and exterior lighting, modernization of three classroom complexes, purchase of more Tulare Avenue property for future growth, renovation of the COS theatre, and matching funds to build a new gym with state money. Included in the bond package would also be an investment in making the campus energy-efficient that will ultimately save $100,000 annually in operating expenses.
   According to COS administrators, the passing of the bond measures couldn’t be more urgent because like many colleges nationwide, COS is currently experiencing all-time record enrollment. This year, enrollment at COS is up 17 percent over the last fall semester.
   That increase translates to 1,862 more students than COS had enrolled one year ago. The total head count as of Sept. 1, 2008, is 12,784 students; the previous high was 11,280, which was the final enrollment for Fall 2002.
   COS students are taking a total of 113,760 units, up 15,782 or 16 percent over last fall. Class enrollments are up 4,113 to 37,582, 12 percent over last fall.
   The Visalia campus district serves Visalia, Three Rivers, Woodlake, Exeter, Farmersville, Ivanhoe, and Cutler-Orosi. For more information on the bonds or to learn more about the Friends of COS, call Harry Wood, 732-1600.

Tulare County Symphony

tunes up for 49th season

  New board member— Leah Catherine Launey of Three Rivers has been appointed to the board of the Tulare County Symphony. She provides an update on the state of the symphony:

  “TCSO is a small nonprofit and basically struggles, one concert at a time. I’m proud that we pay our members — not union wages, but so many small-town orchestras do not pay at all — and I’m proud that we’re a community orchestra, providing local musicians with an opportunity to play first, and only going outside the county when we can’t fill the chairs with our own people.”

  ‘Pops in the Park’— The Tulare County Symphony’s annual Pops in the Park will be held Saturday, Sept. 13, at Zumwalt Park in Tulare. The gates will open at 5 p.m. for picnickers; the concert begins at 8 p.m. Robert Cole, founding conductor of the Symphony in 1959 will conduct this first concert of the season, and several founding orchestra members will return to play under his direction.   Tickets are $20; children under 12 are free but must be accompanied by an adult.
   Benefit Concert— Catherine Launey’s sister, Domonique Launey, is an award-winning pianist who will provide a solo performance on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m., at a Visalia home. All proceeds will benefit the Tulare County Symphony.
   Domonique completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Piano Performance at the University of Texas at Austin. She currently resides in Wilmington, N.C., with her husband and three children.
   Upcoming programs— From September through April, the monthly Tulare County Symphony performances will be directed by guest conductors. The Symphony board is in the final stages of their search for a new music director/conductor.
   After reviewing 127 applications, the six finalists — four men and two women — will appear, in turn, as conductors for the remainder of the season.
   Beginning in October, concerts will be held monthly on Saturdays (except for January), beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Fox Theatre in Visalia.
   Information/tickets: 732-8600.

Take a bike ride for a good cause

All aboard the third annual Smile Train

   It’s said that time flies when you’re having fun, so the last year must have been a blast because we’re already coming up to the third annual Smile Train charity bike ride, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 13. The event will benefit children worldwide who need their cleft lips and palates repaired.
   In just a few years, this event has turned into nothing short of amazing. What began as an idea, quickly turned into a community gathering. History was made last year with Sequoia National Park opening up one of the trails to 50 mountain bikers (and they are doing so again this year).
   But the big news this year is that an anonymous benefactor will match every dollar raised for the cause.
   Registration begins at the Lions Arena at 7:30 a.m. with all rides leaving the grounds by 8:30 a.m. There will be a $50 entry fee to help cover expenses.
   Once again, we’ll have the three routes; the 25- and 50-milers for the roadies, which goes around Lake Kaweah and through the towns of Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, Exeter, and Woodlake, and the 25-mile Shepherd Saddle trail through Sequoia National Park for the mountain bikers.
   There will be full sag (support and gear) support for the road bikers, while minimal support will be provided for the mountain bikers. On the off-road trail, there’s always the dreaded goathead one will encounter, thus tires should be properly slimed.
   During registration, cyclists will be able to enjoy coffee, tea, and juice, as well as load up on Clif snacks. The bulk of the riders will be returning to the Lions Arena close to the noon hour. Lunch will be provided, hosted by the Gateway Restaurant.
   The schwag bags that all cyclists receive are growing larger as we get closer to the date of the ride. Back by popular demand are the Smile Train T-shirts and hats, as well as a number of other items.
   Each year, an incredible amount of bicycle-related items is received for the silent auction from sponsors such as Camelbak (hydration systems), Aerospoke (carbon fiber wheels), Sun Rims (road rims), Continental (tires and seats), Haynes Brakes (hydraulic brakes), and much more.
   New this year, the silent auction will be open to the public from 9 to 11 a.m. on the day of the ride when the cyclists will be on the road. Community members are invited to stop by the Lions Arena, browse the items, and make a bid.
   The majority of the items will be at least 50-percent off the retail price and tax-free, too. And more importantly, the funds raised from the silent auction all go to benefit the Smile Train children, thereby accumulating more funds to double those dollars. Winners need not be present; they will receive a phone call.
   Here are some Smile Train stats:
   This nonprofit organization (www.smiletrain.org) began in 1999, being privately funded so that 100 percent of all funds raised can go to help the children repair their cleft lips and palates; 0 percent for overhead. To date, the Smile Train has helped over 320,000 children, and trained over 23,000 doctors in 76 different countries (including the USA). It costs an average $250 and 45 minutes for the child’s operation, with the average age of the child being six.
   As a direct result of funds raised in the first two years of the local charity ride, 37 children have received the life-changing procedure.   This year, the goal is to add at least another 25 smiles, and with the double incentive, we can bring that total to 50.
   Whether you like the road or the mountains, grab your bike and join a great group of like-minded people for a good time of food, fun, and fellowship, while you’re also helping to put some permanent smiles on those just starting out in life.
   If you can’t make the ride this year, stop by the Arena anyway between 9 and 11 a.m. and place a bid on the silent auction items. Any route you decide to take will lead to a child’s smile.
   For more information about this year’s rides or for a registration form, log onto www.kfccc.org.
   Article contributed by Kevin Foster, resident of Kaweah and host of the charity ride.

Tehipite Fire crosses the line

   The Tehipite Fire was started by lightning on or about July 14. Since that time, the growing blaze has resulted in trails being closed through Tehipite Valley and the Blue Canyon area between the valley and the Kings Canyon National Park boundary.
   Now the fire, which is being allowed to burn, has grown to over 1,600 acres and crossed the park boundary into Sierra National Forest, meaning management is now required by two agencies. It is burning between 4,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation.

Three Rivers artists are thinking big
(photo gallery only in print edition)

   Jana Botkin of Three Rivers, a pencil artist who has now added oil painting to her resumé, recently completed a mural that condenses the region into six picturesque panels. Starting with a giant sequoia and the High Sierra as a backdrop, the panels progress to a river and the golden grasses of the foothills. The mural will be installed as a backdrop in a display case at the Tulare County Museum at Mooney Grove Park in south Visalia. The official unveiling will occur Saturday, Sept. 27, during the Tulare County Historical Society’s annual barbecue, which will kick off the organization’s 2008-2009 season.

   Nadi Spencer of Three Rivers, who last month had one of her murals installed at the new library in Fowler, is at it again. Working in conjunction with staff and volunteers at La Sierra High School in Porterville — a public charter school with vocational training programs — two murals are in progress on that campus.
According to Shirley Keller of Three Rivers, whose husband Bruce has been a teacher at the 100-student school for the past five years, she became involved in this mural project after seeing the mural Nadi completed with the help of students at Three Rivers School.

  “I approached Nadi to find out if she was available and willing to do the same for the Porterville school. She gave me the dates she would be free.

  “I applied to the Fylon Foundation for funds. They offered $900, which was half of what the mural would cost.

  “I heard that the county supervisors’ Step Up Foundation, through the Tulare County Office of Education, was offering grants. Principal Jan Mekeel and I wrote the grant and we received $5,000. Our plan expanded.

  “We hired Nadi to produce two murals with the students. We are also purchasing art supplies for a new art class. And for the first time at the school, the students will be given graduation credits in Fine Arts.

  “In the planning sessions for mural number one, the students picked out three pictures of masks out of dozens of pictures that Nadi had provided. The idea of superimposing students’ faces on the masks emerged. Then the students asked if they could include staff and teachers whom they admire.”
   The second mural is also underway by Nadi and the students. Each student has picked an animal to represent themselves, and the animals will be tucked under the spread wings of a falcon, the school’s mascot. The symbolism is how cared for, safe, and nurtured the students are at La Sierra High School.


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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