Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Countdown to 20 years: 1995 was a real newsmaker

By SARAH ELLIOTT

NOVEMBER 15, 2014— This issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth was originally intended to cover random years over the past (almost) 20. But we never got out of 1995.

Our first issue was published March 1 of that year, so there were 44 issues total. 

What was discovered when looking through the year’s issues is that 1995 was quite eventful. We really hit the ground running.

But looking back, the headlines tell more than the articles. The rounding up of the news is subpar, but it’s all documented. 

There was quite a learning curve to this job. Several years to be exact; actually we’re still trying to get the hang of it.

Nobody was sure if they could trust us, so we had few contacts to call on as sources. That’s been built upon slowly but surely over the years.

In the first issue that March, a new superintendent took the helm at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. Also that month, the Kaweah River breached a few area bridges as it brimmed with snowmelt.

It quickly became evident that there would be no rest for us. Within a few weeks, we were into “event season,” the busiest time of year in Three Rivers: Jazzaffair, Team Roping, and Redbud Festival all demanded coverage.

Thorn Ranch was in front of the Tulare County Planning Commission as a large-scale health spa was being proposed for development on the property. A controversial proposal to allow commercial whitewater rafting on the Middle Fork of the Kaweah was also being considered by County officials, placing several riverfront property owners and rafting companies at odds.

It was a heavy snow year in the mountains; on June 16, a storm left a foot of new snow at the 8,000-foot elevation level on an already heavy snowpack. As of Memorial Day, there were four feet of snow on the Mineral King Road and the area was closed during the three-day holiday weekend. The year-end precipitation totals were 33 inches in Three Rivers and 44 inches in Ash Mountain.

Removal of the concession facilities in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park also began some rapid forward motion. This included the removal of some 400 lodging rooms, along with the restaurants, market, souvenir and gift shops, and more. But what was good for the Big Trees was bad for the Three Rivers economy.

The year also marked the beginning of the process to enlarge the Lake Kaweah reservoir. The Municipal Advisory Council, also known as MAC and the closest thing to a town council that Three Rivers had, was disbanded.

The Castle Fire was ignited by lightning in July and was allowed to burn. Three Rivers was enveloped in smoke for nearly six months. In fact, helicopter water drops were being conducted on that blaze in December due to smoke in Three Rivers.

In retrospect, it is obvious that the Castle Fire is what formed the Commonwealth’s editorial stance on Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s prescribed fire policy. This was our first experience with this let-burn policy and it was horrendous, so to this day, we are quite sensitive when smoke from park fires settles in the Kaweah canyon. 

There was a government shutdown during the winter holidays, making it the first time that national parks had ever been closed to the public during Christmas. The first phase of the Generals Highway rehabilitation project began, another hit to the Three Rivers economy, especially when the Visalia daily newspaper advised all park travelers to take Highway 180 to avoid delays. And then-Congressman George Radanovich introduced the “Mineral King Protection Act” to preserve that area’s historic resources.

Something telling about those times is a sentence in the Letters to the Editor policy. It says, “Mail, fax, and hand delivery are all acceptable methods of submission.” What’s missing? Email! As of 1995, it had not yet become a widely used source of communication. Hard to imagine.

As of yet, there was no Kaweah Kalendar or Neighbor Profile. No Best of Kaweah Country, No Hiking the Parks.

Yep, we had our work cut out for us. But we’re still here.

A current project of ours is the creation of a digital archive and a hard-bound collection of all past issues. 

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