Better with time, like a fine wine

By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun

Starlite Lounge’s second annual Cork N Fork event was even more successful than the first.

Held in the lounge’s parking area on Saturday, Nov. 4, it was apparent that the event is already outgrowing its venue.

At the event’s inception last year, owners (and sisters) Elise Modrovich and Dawn Jordan had given the proceeds to the Erskine Fire Fund. This year, they saw a different need – the cleanup and preservation of the Kern River.
During this year’s high-water summer, the Kern River Valley welcomed many more tourists than it saw during the five-year drought period. But, as Jordan says, “With tourists come money, but also trash.”

So she and Modrovich decided to dedicate this year’s funds to two organizations, the Keepers of the Kern and the Kern River Conservancy.

The Keepers of the Kern was founded in 2013 by brother and sister team Barbara and Rex Hinkey to address the pollutants on the Kern River and Isabella Lake that are hazardous to environmental and human health. Every month, the organization schedules clean-up days at different locations, and volunteers head out to clean up tons of trash. In addition, they donate trash receptacles at several camp areas.

Kern River Conservancy takes a different approach. According to the organization’s founder, Gary Ananian, while the organization does schedule clean-up days, most of its volunteer hours are spent on community outreach.
Ananian said that much of this year’s focus has been on the lower river, which saw many new visitors and bore the brunt of this year’s drownings. Because the Keepers have the upper river well-managed, Ananian felt that the Conservancy could focus its efforts on the lower river.

The Conservancy placed more importance on outreach and education this year, setting up kiosks at key locations and visiting with those recreating on the river.

One thing Ananian said he would love to see is more local volunteers. Currently, the Conservancy has 227 volunteers, only one of whom lives in the Kern River Valley. All others travel to the valley from places like Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and Orange County. In fact, some of his last volunteers were German tourists who saw a Conservancy event on Instagram and traveled from Joshua Tree National Park to be part of it.

“I would love to see this community get more involved,” said Ananian.

But the love shown at Cork N Fork was not lost on him.

“It feels amazing to know that the community has stepped up not just for us, but the whole river,” he said.

And step up it did – according to Modrovich and Jordan, while last year’s Cork N Fork capped at 200 people, this year’s reached 300. It raised roughly $4,000 to donate between the two organizations, and the future is only looking brighter.

Modrovich said that the wineries who attend the event, mostly central coast-based vendors for the Starlite Lounge, love to visit the valley and have nothing but positive feedback for the friendly community. Plus, with the help the Starlite receives from Rivernook Campground, who donated much-needed canopies and may be the bigger venue that next year’s Cork N Fork needs, Modrovich and Jordan should be able to sell more tickets, raise more money and keep the event accessible and affordable for years to come.

Although they ran into some frantic logistical roadblocks that would stress any event planner, the sisters were happy with the turnout, both by local restaurants and wineries, and the fact that they were blessed with beautiful weather to top it off was not lost on them.

“The wine gods love us,” said Modrovich.

“Well, God loves wine,” nodded Jordan.