Community planner envisions ‘New Three Rivers’

Old Three Rivers

In the late-19th century, when one family’s ranch home experienced growth, that became a town center of sorts for Three Rivers. The remote foothills settlement didn’t officially become a town (if you could call a couple hundred settlers scattered widely along three forks of the Kaweah River a town) until there was a post office, which was established in 1879.Community planner envisions New Three Rivers

This early settlement was named Three Rivers by Louisa Rockwell, who with her husband and family, lived north of where the North Fork Bridge crosses the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River today. Up canyon from the Rockwells were the Bartons who several years before relocated from Auckland, north of Elderwood.

The Barton ranch on the north side of the river consisted of several parcels of former railroad land that hopscotched its way up today’s North Fork Drive. Their decision to establish a ranch here was influenced by a mining rush in Mineral King during the 1870s.

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In those days, there was the Bahwell home, saloon, store, and stage stop on the Mineral King Road (where the Three Rivers Historical Museum is located). These establishments served travelers as they made their way to the East Fork and up to Mineral King. In the late 1880s, a short-lived utopian society brought settlers to the Kaweah Cooperative Colony near the present-day Kaweah Post Office.

After Sequoia National Park was created (September 25, 1890), another small settlement, founded by the Britten family with store and hotel prospered near the South Fork and became known as the town center of Three Rivers.

A half-century later, residential tracts (Cherokee Oaks, Alta Acres, Sierra King, et al.) were surveyed and recorded as more folks, especially retirees, were attracted to this small gateway community at the southern boundary of Sequoia National Park.

In the 1970s, plans for a ski resort at Mineral King fueled a community growth spurt in Three Rivers. The Three Rivers Community Services District was formed (1972) and the first community plan was approved (1980), setting some parameters for growth.

New Three Rivers

The key to this development is that it has to be community-driven to be successful…

It won’t come from the County of Tulare’s planning department or a developer who brings a plan to build something few can support. But rather, individuals and investors who buy into a planned urban development (PUD) that already has a measure of community support.

Now in the 21st century, there are several factors at work now that will drive growth and investment opportunity in Three Rivers. As some cling to hope that change never comes, it’s already occurring.

Here’s what’s driving these community changes: First, it’s the increase in Sequoia National Park visitation that has been trending up since the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS) in 2016. That spike in visitation, along with the inception of online vacation-rental booking services, caused a short-term rental explosion in Three Rivers.

It is probable that investment in local residential and commercial properties will continue for the foreseeable future. No large-scale investment, however, will take place until there is community planning.

Gary Cort, a longtime Three Rivers resident, art gallery owner, and architect, has an interesting take on this process. As a credentialed architect and environmental designer, he is uniquely qualified and experienced to offer a concept design for the future of what he calls “New Three Rivers.”

“I’ve always thought that planning doesn’t work here, and in Three Rivers it’s an organic process,” Cort said. “The action is with the property owners, and then the County and community react to what is developed.”

Gary Cort settled in Three Rivers in 1978, and he’s been designing and planning from his window on the world ever since.

Cort has designed numerous home and commercial spaces and worked for many Three Rivers clients.

Working and living in Three Rivers for the past four decades, Cort envisions a New Three Rivers. We can react to this town center in myriad ways but some degree of community development is inevitable.

Cort asks, how much do we need? That will determine, he said, the what, where, and when. The key to this development is that it has to be community-driven to be successful.

It won’t come from the County of Tulare’s planning department or a developer who brings a plan to build something few can support. But rather, individuals and investors who buy into a planned urban development (PUD) that already has a measure of community support.

The term “urban” is used loosely here, meaning to incorporate certain elements in New Three Rivers like housing, transportation, and gathering spaces as opposed to city-building. In other words, capitalizing on the unique resources already here: river, mountains, open space, dark sky, smallness, and solitude.

Videography and video editing by Ethan Paggi.

Community planner envisions New Three Rivers
No Oakhurst-like streetscape here but rather a concentric plan that would seek to develop a Three Rivers town center south of and off the main highway.




5 thoughts on “Community planner envisions ‘New Three Rivers’

  • October 3, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    While I totally commend Gary, John Elliott, and everyone else promoting sustainable development and infrastructure, the Tulare County RMA has shown us that they have zero respect for CEQA. The Three Rivers Community Plan Update (3RCPU) has expanded our current Urban Development Boundary into unsafe areas of critical ecological importance, with loopholes for variances and Special Use Permits that completely undermine those same ordinances and planning standards designed to safeguard the community. LEO is way understaffed and emergency response times are dismal. If we’re going to ‘capitalize’ on the “river, mountains, open space, dark sky, smallness, solitude” does that not mean build up the riparian, turn open space into closed space, dark skies into lit skies? Look no further than the Sunshine Paradise Ranch and the Redwood Ranch in the upper South Fork Canyon. Both of these developments are being built, or currently operating, way outside our UDB in extreme fire hazard zones, along riparian buffers, on inadequate and dangerous roadways. Yet, where’s the ordinance enforcements? To quote the RMA, the ‘enforcements are on hold’ until these developments are finished building, at which point they’re granted Variances or Special Use Permits that circumvent our 3RCPU. I invite everyone to drive to the end of South Fork and witness the current 300 yard vertical grade/gash on a 60 degree slope. Or admire, any night from Thursday through Sunday, the free concert and strobe lights in the upper South Fork canyon. With campfires throughout the summer months and into fire season, our lives and livelihoods have been directly endangered. Is this the same RMA, then, that we’ll ask to navigate sustainable development in 3R? That we can count on for transparency regarding total Acre-Feet per aquifer within our watersheds? That will enforce serious health and human safety violations? The hard truth is that County RMA and city planners are paid professionals with their own methodologies for ‘capitalizing’ on our ‘resources’. I commend you, John Elliott, for being the single dissenting vote to the recently adopted 3RCPU.

  • October 4, 2019 at 7:37 am

    The reality of the situation is that most “planning” and “developmental” ideas begin with the motivation of someone that sees a potential monetary gain. Ultimately it ends up with a local government that constantly needs to increase it’s resources to support the communities growing needs, which are supplied by growing the tax base. Just look at the coast. Quality of life has always, always been a low or non-consideration.

    • October 4, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      Definitely. However, local governments don’t need to constantly increase their tax base at the expense of zoning and development standards designed to protect health and human safety, or our baseline economy (natural resources). The power of community organization and even a basic understanding of local ordinances can be enough to hold regulatory agencies responsible. It’s never been more needed in 3R—vacation rentals are the first real major industry to make it year-round, and as tourism booms, the hanging fruit for developers and planners is irresistible. At any expense. The developments mentioned above are unfairly advantaged by being outside of zoning typically allowed for these commercial practices, and are not directly contributing to our local tax base the same way businesses are responsibly doing so in town. They also set a dangerous precedent for expanding our Wildland Urban Interface into wilderness areas, and allowing commercial development outside of the UDB.

  • October 6, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    My vote is to listen to Gary Cort. He is a genius at looking at a site situation, then creating suitable and attractive (no Beautiful) structures. His minimalist approach means less impact on the environment and our neighbors. Listen to Him!

  • October 7, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Agree with Kathleen and support of Gary Cort.


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