It figures that at the best swimming hole in Three Rivers swimmers will do whatever it takes to cool off in the pristine pools. So when a couple of weeks ago, an unprecedented throng of users all showed up at once, Gary Cort, the lone riverfront property owner who provides access, finally admitted “enough is enough.”
For part of one day and several hours the next, a sign on the chain-link gate read “ACCESS IS CLOSED. GO HOME. TAKE YOUR TRASH.” On the ground, directly below the sign, there was a pile of the most recent accumulation of trash left at the swimming hole.
Gary Cort, who owns and operates Cort Gallery on Highway 198 and has owned the Slicky property since 2001, said it just wasn’t possible to keep them out.
“We closed one access place, and they searched for another way to enter,” Gary said. “They went up, over, and through fences like the river itself, seeking the next obvious place to flow through and gain access.”
Gary said he realized that getting tough wasn’t working so he opted to stay positive and treat these so-called trespassers with kindness.
“I don’t have time to explain to each one how to behave properly at the river so I’m assuming the majority of them will figure it out on their own,” Gary said
That’s where Jalene Vincent Welch comes in. Jalene has lived in a riverfront dwelling adjacent to Slicky on Cort’s property for the past eight years and is the self-appointed head docent, charged with teaching all who come to Slicky about proper river etiquette. Jalene admits it’s a small price to pay to live with Slicky as her backyard.
But raising her three kids at Slicky while she monitors the hundreds who visit Slicky can be a daunting task.
“I have experienced every emotion and tried numerous strategies to make it work,” Jalene said. “What I’ve come to realize is that we all need to share. It’s not a park, and on this river there really is no recreational alternative.”
Slick Rock, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed property, is bursting at the seams with people and their refuse. The County of Tulare has refused to fund a public park so, for the time being, Jalene will continue, in her user-friendly style, to educate the masses in the dos and the don’ts of Slicky.
Jalene said that real progress has been made despite a few bad apples.
“We got the message out on no grills or glass containers,” Jalene said. “Now we are working on prohibiting the large coolers and the picnics that create refuse and encourage longer stays.”
The idea is to come enjoy a dip or a slide down the rapids but leave when nature calls or everyone’s hungry.
“We’re not a park here so there is no signage, and we have no facilities. Visitors are going to do their business somewhere,” Jalene said. “Small children are either going to go in the river or in the bushes.”
Gary Cort said it’s the age-old problem in Three Rivers — no public restrooms. He and other Slicky proponents say they are attempting to get an adjacent owner to furnish a site for porta-potties.
Impacts to area businesses, especially parking issues, have continued to be a big deal, especially on weekends. The nearest neighbor, Rio Sierra Riverhouse, experiences Slicky’s overflow as swimmers spill over onto their property to use their registered-guest-only amenities.
Rio Sierra straddles the upriver falls and pool at Slicky so some of the best river swimming on the planet comes with an overnight stay at the lodging facility. Rio Sierra retains extra help during the busy season to ensure river-users do not disturb their guests.
According to one worker at Rio Sierra, Slicky is the best of times and the worst of times all rolled into one.
Heading into the busy Fourth of July weekend, Jalene said she and a cadre of helpers will encourage visitors to leave the coolers and picnics in their vehicles and respect neighboring residents by vacating by 8 p.m.
For a few more weeks, Slicky will remain the best swimming hole in town. Then, as the river level drops, the swimmers will vanish as quickly as they appeared, and Slicky will return to normalcy — a quiet, sacred place lined with ancient grinding holes where the river runs through it.