Three Rivers, CA
Photo © Leah Catherine Launey
Three Rivers is a magical village located in the Sierra Nevada foothills at the entrance to Sequoia National Park, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where three forks of the Kaweah River converge - the Middle or Main Fork, the North Fork and the South Fork. The river begins 12,000 feet up in the neighboring Sierra Nevada mountains, and actually has two additional forks - the Marble and East Forks - which mainly flow outside of Three Rivers in nearby Sequoia National Park. Together with the Middle, North and South, they create Kaweah Canyon, as dramatic as it is beautiful. The word "Kaweah" is believed to be of Native American origin, most likely coming from the Yokuts word "Gaweah" which means raven or crow.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the 1850s, Three Rivers was populated by the Yokuts who found the native oak trees, buckeyes, plants, fish, deer, birds, ducks, squirrels, rabbits and other small animals created a little paradise for their survival, at least during the fall, winter and the spring. Back then, most California natives had two homes, one in the winter and a different one in the summer, and the Yokuts in Three Rivers were no different. They moved their camp into present day Giant Forest located in Sequoia National Park during the summertime, returning to Three Rivers as soon as the weather turned too cold or the snow too heavy for them to easily find food.
When the first Europeans arrived in the mid 1850s, they began raising cattle, sheep, and pigs. They followed the Yokuts pattern of moving themselves and their stock into Giant Forest during the summertime. By the 1870s, these settlers were successfuly raising their domestic livestock and they had also planted many orchards of citrus trees and other types of fruit trees.
In the late 1880s, an additional group of about 160 people arrived. They had originally met in San Francisco and decided to build their socialist utopian dream in the mountains, creating a place where individuals would truly be equal, value would come from labor and not from mere demand, a good education would be available to all, and women could be as well respected as men. The colony slowly fell apart and the experiment failed when the colonists were denied title to their land, but not before the group had swelled in size to 300 and made contributions which survived to this day. Some of the colonists left the area upon the colony's demise never to return again while some remained and were eventually absorbed into the local community.
For starters, once they had set up their headquarters along the banks of the North Fork, the Kaweah colonists formed a joint stock company which they called the "Kaweah Co-Operative Commonwealth Company of California", structured their society into divisions and departments, established sewing clubs, brass bands, theater groups, and debate societies, and experimented with then-new ideas for governance, including the concepts of referendum, initiative, and recall. The colonists enjoyed croquet, mandolin music and the like, in their immediate family circles. They also contributed to and participated in the annual spring picnic which evolved over time into the Three Rivers Lions Team Roping held every year on the last full weekend in April.
They also built, almost entirely by hand, an amazing road of approximately 20 miles in length, over dangerous precipices of sheer granite, steep gorges, and steep chaparral-covered mountainsides, from their headquarters on the banks of the river to a tent construction camp called "Advance" to the edge of present-day Giant Forest, where they erected a portable saw mill. This road is still in use today, for access for firefighters and park rangers, maintaining the normal and necessary low intensity summertime brush fires. For 36 years, until the completion of the Generals Highway, the Colony Mill Road was the only road into Giant Forest other than cattle paths which followed ancient Native American paths.
Another reminder of their existence can be found in the form of an historical marker, located at the foot of the old Kaweah Post Office, currently located about 3 miles down North Fork Drive. The small wooden building has been in continuous use as a post office since it was moved to that location in 1910. It has been designated a California State Historical Landmark.
Currently, the colony's tent construction camp site at "Advance" is under the control of the Federal Bureau of Land Management or BLM, and their "Paradise" site is shared by the BLM and a private landlowner. Both are closed to the public at present, due to lack of funds to help BLM properly staff the sites and issues relating to ownership of Paradise. However, I am hopeful that this closure will be of short duration.
CURRENT DAY THREE RIVERS
Three Rivers has two museums and a visitors center, art galleries, many artist studios, a small theater venue, a Veterans memorial building, a traditional jazz club, a world-famous jazz band, and a classical music performing arts institute, a world-famous candy shop, several specialty shops and a scenic 9-hole golf course, two banks, five churches, a retreat center, a family-practice physician and clinic, local mountain healers, two dentists, a library, an historic cemetery in addition to the old Kaweah Post Office, a hardware store, riding stables, veterinary services, an organic farm, and an elementary school. There are two grocery stores, several convenience stores, a modern post office, a full-service gas station, and 24-hour gasoline. Our restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to casual. Several are located along the riverfront. Some offer live music from time to time and still others offer live music on a regular basis, from big names to local talent. Visitor lodging includes riverside inns, poolside motels and hotels, bed-and-breakfast establishments, cabins, campgrounds and RV parks.
Population per the recent census is 2,182. Full-time population may be as much as 3,000 if you include all the ranches and farms in the surrounding area. Nowadays, when summer arrives, I rejoice because our snow-melt river is finally low enough, and warm enough, that I can walk in it, and play in it! Tourism is our main industry, with the National Park Service as our largest employer. Our weekly newspaper, our community services district, and the monthly town hall meetings hosted by the Village Foundation, all serve to keep things running smoothly and to keep us informed. For more information about our town, a good place to go is the website for our local newspaper, The Kaweah Commonwealth, at http://www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/ Three Rivers wouldn't be the same without it, and it is the source for much of the information contained herein.
Three Rivers starts the year off with a plunge into the Kaweah River at the Gateway Restaurant on January 1st. This hilarious Polar Plunge or Polar Dip is followed by a hot breakfast - free for participants. We hold a free family-friendly festival of art, food, and fun on the 1st Saturday of each month run by local artist Nadi Spencer. We also have an annual Snowman Building Contest in January, a Learn to Square Dance Party in February, and a Picnic with Bathtub race at Lake Kaweah in March which are also free, family-friendly, open to the public, and form a part of the Hero Appreciation Program which runs every January-March. The month of April ushers in Jazzaffair, our almost 40 year old traditional jazz festival run entirely by volunteers, and the 60 plus year old Lions Club Team Roping held on the last full weekend in April. May brings the annual Redbud Arts and Crafts Festival sponsored by the Arts Alliance on Mother's Day weekend. The Three Rivers Performing Arts Institute (TRPAI) presents a classical music camp for virtuoso string players in June which provides the community with spectacular free concerts. TRPAI also hosts the annual Concert in the Grass in September and a winter chamber music series. A Hot Dog Festival in July, Living History Day in October and Community Caroling around a bonfire in December, are all sponsored by the Historical Society, October also brings us the Environmental Weekend, and the Senior League hosts a Holiday Bazaar every November - just to name a few of our events and activities. And every two years, the artists of Three Rivers throw open their studio doors in the springtime for the Three Rivers Artists' Biennial Studio Tour and invite the public in for a special presentation and tour that runs for 3-4 days.
Residents include musicians, artists, craftspeople, writers, photographers, history buffs, scientists, nurses, teachers, shopkeepers, innkeepers, small-business professionals of many types, retirees, commuters, ranchers and farmers.
With Lake Kaweah at one end, Sequoia National Park at the other, and three forks of the Kaweah River running through it, there are almost unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities in the Three Rivers area. In town, depending on the season, you can go whitewater rafting, boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, biking and horseback riding. Take in a game of golf, go on a picnic, watch the birds, enjoy the wildflowers, and don't forget to take in our stunning sunsets and star-filled nights! Also, in the winter and early spring, nearby Sequoia National Park provides us with opportunities for snow sports such as snowshoe hiking and cross-country skiing, in addition to snow play such as snow boarding and sledding, as well as snowman building. It is a beautiful Park and the home of the largest living thing, the General Sherman tree, worth a visit all by itself.
According to the Kaweah Commonwealth, the list of Three Rivers wildlife includes bear, deer, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, skunks, fox, bobcats, coyotes, rabbits, and more. Bird life consists of, but is not limited to, eagles, hawks, ravens, quail, great blue herons, owls, blue jays, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, mourning doves, western bluebirds, and mallard ducks. The fish population includes bass, crappie, bluegill, carp, catfish and rainbow trout. Reptiles include lizards, frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles and several species of snakes including rattlesnakes.
The newspaper's only request is that we appreciate the local wildlife, but not touch it or disturb it. I agree!