The lure of the THREE RIVERS
If the Memorial Day weekend was any indication, Three Rivers residents better start looking forward to September, a time with cooler weather and less water. Thousands of people were in town over the holiday period, some passing through to Sequoia National Park, some using Three Rivers as their base camp for mountain exploration, and a horde of day-users. And things didn’t flow so smoothly.
The traffic into Sequoia was backed up for three miles into Three Rivers on Saturday. This means there were hundreds of idling vehicles impeding residents’ access to and from their homes, as well as impacts to local businesses along the route. The National Park Service needs to further explore options to streamline the entrance process.
Three Rivers knows it has a river-access problem, yet every year when the hot weather arrives, townsfolk are once again caught off guard by the onslaught of visitors. And the problem is only escalating. The town simply doesn’t have the public facilities to accommodate the growing multitude of people clamoring to find a place by the water to set up for the day. In Three Rivers, there are no public restrooms, no public parking, no public access to the river, no public park or picnic tables, no public trash cans. Yet, therein lies the draw for many of the day-users. Because there are no public services, there are no fees. So if someone can snag a spot by the river — whether by means of trespassing or by discovering the two areas that have become known to be open to the public: Slicky and Edison (closed on weekends) — it’s free. But because the town isn’t accommodating with its most valuable resource — the river — and we have a perceived level of affluence by those who come here from other parts of the county, these day-users relay their resentment via litter, vandalism, and tagging, which are left behind in growing abundance. And trashing the Kaweah River is simply not acceptable. That’s when Three Rivers residents lose patience.
The day-users that cause Three Rivers the migraine headaches summer after summer mostly travel from somewhere in Tulare County. Out of California’s 58 counties, Tulare County is consistently ranked as having the highest percentage of people with incomes below the federal poverty line, meaning there are a lot of people without recreational opportunities near their homes who are in search of free or low-cost places to take the kids and cool off during the summer’s oppressive heat. In addition, Tulare County has a growing gang population. They, too, want river access during the hottest months, but the threat of violence increases where gang members congregate, so there is a volatile situation always waiting to happen.
Add to this the unincorporated status of Three Rivers, where our tax dollars are not our own to spend locally nor as we deem necessary, and the community has no decision-making power or funding to throw at this problem. So what’s Three Rivers to do? Here is what has been done, and it hasn’t worked: (1) Bottlenecking these folks into just a few areas — Slicky/Edison, Lake Kaweah, Sequoia; (2) Holding a town meeting and voicing complaints for two hours at a time a couple of times a year; (3) Demanding additional Sheriff’s deputy coverage.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. —Albert Einstein
What will work? To truly be a tourist town and a visitor destination, which is what the local economy depends on, we need to provide public restrooms; public recreation such as walking trails, bike paths, and access to the water; picnic tables and barbecues (so people don’t use their own in uncontrolled areas); and a public transportation center with parking. The land necessary for such amenities would have to be purchased (perhaps not all at once) under the auspices of the County of Tulare but there are grants available to offset the costs.
These public places would have oversight, rules, hours of operation, caretaker supervision, maintenance, cleanup and, hopefully, education, paid for by user fees and gateway community grants. Any public services could be organized and managed by the Three Rivers Community Services District. A CSD is authorized to provide a wide variety of community services, including security, public recreation, graffiti abatement, and more, most of which this community is not currently requiring. If the CSD did provide additional services, it would require initiatives to be approved by the district’s voters.
Decades of poor planning has backed Three Rivers into this corner. It will take cohesiveness as a community, forethought and vision, and dedication to the betterment of Three Rivers to get us out of this pickle. Local representation at the county level would be beneficial, someone who understands the needs of Three Rivers. Currently, John Elliott of Three Rivers has committed himself to solve this and other issues at the county level as a Supervisor for District 1. He has the knowledge and experience to get things done, he won’t hesitate to doggedly pursue outside funding sources and aggressively lobby state and federal lawmakers, and he will tirelessly and vigorously work to solve this mounting problem. This election could be a giant first step toward a long-awaited solution to Three Rivers’s river-access plight that will not only assist Three Rivers but benefit citizens throughout Tulare County.