This issue is a part of a commemorative series leading up to the Commonwealth's 20th anniversary in March 2015.
We've got issues!
I had 1,000 issues on my calendar. My iPad issued the reminder for Friday, Sept. 26.
But my business partner in this venture, who also happens to be my husband, disagreed with me, saying he performed a count on the issues and 1,000 wouldn’t occur until December.
Well, guess who was wrong? Let me give you a hint: This is our 1,005th issue.
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For those who lived here in 1996, this issue is old news or, rather, history. For those who haven’t lived in Three Rivers for 18 years or more, much that is contained within these pages will be new news or, rather, history of Three Rivers that will assist in understanding the context of this place called home.
Back in 1996, the area code was 209. Bill Sanders was District 1’s county supervisor. Mike Tollefson was superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. Kevin Bohl was resident deputy sheriff.
It was an election year with Clinton pitted against Dole, and even though the incumbent retained the presidency, Dole won in Tulare County and in Three Rivers.
Another result of that election is California voters approved a measure to raise the speed limit on specific roadways from 55 to 70 mph.
Larry Horton was superintendent/principal of Three Rivers School till June. In August, Sue Sherwood took the reins of the school, just the fourth person to lead the school in its 70-year history.
And 1996 was the year the Internet came to town. Three Rivers School went online, Century 21’s property listings hit the Internet, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon debuted its website.
Ripple effect of the national parks
The national parks, including Sequoia-Kings Canyon, reopened in January 1996 after being closed to visitors through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing occurred in October 2013 (but, ouch, during the winter holidays?).
Three Rivers took a big hit to its economy because of this government shutdown. In addition, the first phase of Generals Highway road construction — which NPS press releases announced as a 10-year project — was underway, and the Visalia Times-Delta wrote an editorial advising park travelers to “avoid Highway 198.” If this weren’t enough, 1996 was also the year that the visitor facilities in what was formerly known as Giant Forest Village closed with no replacement lodging, dining, or shopping. The town has never recovered from this one-two-three punch.
With GSI’s (Guest Services Inc.) contract up, the park was taking bids for concessioners. A new company, later organized as Kings Canyon Park Services, won that park’s contract. But even though the National Park Service had built the infrastructure at Wuksachi Village, the Giant Forest Village replacement away from the giant sequoia grove, no acceptable bids were received.
With GSI out and gone at the end of the summer season after being the local parks’ concessioner since the 1970s, there were some tense times at Ash Mountain. An interim agreement was made with Kings Canyon Park Services to operate the Lodgepole Market and other visitor services in Sequoia that were deemed too vital to close.
Besides concessioner woes, Sequoia had a couple other projects it was exploring. The reopening of the Hidden Springs Truck Trail was considered, which would provide a 12-mile route for hikers and equestrians from Yucca Creek at the end of North Fork Drive to Redwood Canyon. This project was ultimately approved, and volunteers, mostly from the Back Country Horsemen of California, would provide the labor. The project never materialized.
The Park Service also requested public input on the development of a group campsite at Atwell Mill Campground in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. This plan also never came to fruition.
In addition, this was the year that the parks’ Backcountry Management Plan reverted in name and concept to the Wilderness Plan.
Hot time in town
It was a summer to remember for fires. In July, fires were ignited by lightning in the Castle Rocks area of Sequoia National Park. The NPS decided to let them burn, but soon regretted the decision as the area proved volatile yet too rugged and steep for ground crews to get a handle on the blazes.
This began a daily smoke-out in Three Rivers that is unprecedented to this day. In August, as the Castle complex of fires was winding down, a car parked in dry grass near the Edison swimming hole on Kaweah River Drive started a fire.
This one blazed up the canyon, burned 5,000 acres, and caused the evacuation of Dinely Drive. It wasn’t until two-and-a-half weeks later that the fire was stopped at Shepherd’s Saddle inside Sequoia National Park.
Also during the summer, the human-caused Hospital Rock and Cherry Falls fires burned 300 and 500 acres, respectively.
In the fall, the NPS lit a 1,200-acre burn in the East Fork canyon near Mineral King, and the smoke from that prescribed fire also found its way to Three Rivers each morning.
Making waves over rafting
Commercial rafting had been ongoing on the Kaweah River since 1988, but was unregulated. In the spring of 1996, five companies were operating on the Kaweah. This pitted riverfront property owners against the rafters and a weeks-long controversy erupted that resulted in the drafting of regulations by the County of Tulare that are still in use.
The Holiday Inn Express (present-day Comfort Inn and Suites) broke ground and a new winery was welcomed with raised glasses. The Kaweah Land Trust (since absorbed by Visalia’s Sequoia Riverlands Trust) was hosting monthly Saturday Morning Walks that were immensely popular, taking participants to sites throughout Three Rivers with historical, natural, and scenic values.
Thelma Alles Crain (1912-2009) published her entertaining memoir called Sunbeams and Buzzards: Letters From Three Rivers.
In the line of duty
Randy Morgenson, a Sequoia-Kings Canyon backcountry ranger for nearly 30 summer seasons, went missing in July. He was the subject of an intensive search that was eventually called off when no clues were found as to his whereabouts.
It wouldn’t be until five years later, almost to the day, that the mystery of w
hat happened to Randy would be solved. But even to this day, some of the circumstances of his death remain unknown.
If you can’t wait for the 2001 anniversary retrospective, a book was written about Randy’s life and disappearance. It’s destined to become a classic outdoor adventure book: The Last Season, by Eric Blehm (Harper Collins, 2006).
Jay O’Connell, who was raised in Three Rivers, wrote every other week about the Kaweah Colony. It was such a comprehensive series on this fascinating yet failed utopian experiment that, in 1999, he incorporated it into a self-published book, Co-Operative Dreams: A History of the Kaweah Colony.
In February, in a tribute to Black History Month, Jay wrote a three-installment series on Captain-turned-Colonel Charles Young.
Jay wrote, “Young was military superintendent of Sequoia in 1903. He finished the road to Giant Forest. The third African-American ever to graduate from West Point…”
On the newspaper front, we were only into our second year of publishing and still had not hit our stride. I cringe looking through these issues at some of the errors. The layout was still cut-and-paste in the early part of the year, which left room for lots of mistakes.
This is how I was taught, but as I became more familiar with my publishing software, I figured out on my own how to design the pages on the computer instead. By the end of 1996, the layout of the newspaper was starting to look a little better.
I was writing a column every week called Visiting Around Town. Looking back, there was some usefulness in this column because minor news tidbits could be condensed here that today wouldn’t make it into the paper due to demands on space.
The first Neighbor Profile appeared in 1996. See page 4: This guy has returned for an encore in what is now called “People You Should Know.”
This was also the year I started the popular Hiking the Parks series. The first installment was about a hike to the old Colony Mill Ranger Station and surroundings. More about that inside this issue (see page 2).
This was the year our children, ages six and eight, started hitting the trails with us, taking their first backpacking trip and several substantial day hikes. And it’s all documented.
John was writing his Makin’ History column fairly regularly too, putting some historical perspective on the news of the day. Which is also what we’re doing in this issue: adding historical perspective to the news of today.
How did we get where we are now in Three Rivers? A lot of it had to do with what was going on in 1996.