Forest Service moves in

By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun

With the snip of a ribbon, the new Kern River Ranger Station in Kernville was officially opened to the public on Nov. 1, and residents had their first look inside the new 9,785 square foot facility.

Phillip DeSenze, Deputy District Ranger of the Kern River Ranger District welcomed the large gathering of Forest Service employees, construction workers, political representatives and community members who had been watching the construction of the ranger station for the past year. Robert Gomez, Chairman of the Tubatulabal Tribe, sang a ceremonial song to commemorate the opening, stating that Forest Service has given their tribe a good opportunity to help sustain their tribal culture in the Kern River Valley.

Sequoia National Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliott said that the day marked the culmination of an idea that started years ago to work with the community and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That idea turned the demolition of the Forest Service lake office into construction of the new ranger station, a facility that will serve the community and Forest Service employees.

Elliott noted that the new facility is environmentally efficient as it is equipped with solar panels that generate approximately 17,000 kilowatts of power, almost enough electricity to power the facility.

He gave recognition to the partnerships that have formed between the federal, state and local tribal community, partnerships that have been in the area for a long time. He also recognized the hard work of the employees, noting that many of them were at the new station late the night before and early that morning putting everything together. “This is your community, and with your support, we will continue to make a difference on the ground and for the folks that come to this valley,” Elliott said.

Regional Forester Randy Moore of the Pacific Southwest Region told those in attendance that the new Kern River Ranger Station would not have happened without the community. “I appreciate how this community came together,” Moore said, thanking both the community and Forest Service employees for their passion for the area.

Moore also thanked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We couldn’t have found a better partner,” he said, referring to the Corps of Engineer’s Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project.

The Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project, which started back in 2012, will raise both the Auxiliary and Main dams by 16 feet and include construction of a new and wider emergency spillway. Before construction can get underway, the Forest Service office that is located at the dam must be removed, as it is located in the footprint of the 300-ft. wide emergency spillway. As part of the mitigation for the loss of the Isabella Lake office, the Corps was required to relocate the employees and associated equipment to another facility and fund a portion of the new building. The Corps funded about half of the new Kern River Ranger Station, with the Forest Service funding the remaining half.

Deputy Commander Lt. Col. John Lory of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District called the construction and completion of the new ranger station a milestone and a day to celebrate.

“This is an easy day,” Lory said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “And there were a lot of hard days to get to this point.” Lory referred to the new ranger station as the first step as they continue to improve the safety for the Kern Valley community and areas downstream of the Isabella dams.

In thanking the numerous partners who worked as a team on the new ranger station, Lory noted the Corps looks forward to continuing to work with the Forest Service on the Dam Safety Modification Project.

Representatives from political offices were on hand to offer their congratulations to the Forest Service including Pam Rose from State Senator Jean Fuller’s office; Christian Chacon from Assemblyman Devon Mathis’s office and Debbie Freeland from Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason’s office.

DeSenze thanked the local community leadership introducing representatives from the Kernville Chamber of Commerce, Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Kern River Valley Revitalization for their support and involvement with the project. He also gave kudos to Macro-Z Technology, the Santa Ana based construction crew “for constructing this remarkable building in about a year and the extra effort they gave that got us to the finish line,” he said, noting that the construction team was able to complete the job without a single lost work day injury.

DeSenze noted that Al Watson, District Ranger for the Kern River Ranger was unable to attend the opening ceremony, as he is on special detail assignment in the state of Washington. “But Al is excited about returning to this new building,” DeSenze said.

He then directed his comments to the staff of the Kern River Ranger District. “What an amazing staff,” he said, noting that the employees were willing to put in whatever amount of time it took to pull it all together. DeSenze told the audience that if they had seen what the building looked like on Monday morning compared to how it looked the morning of the ceremony, they would understand his appreciation.

With that, the ribbon was cut and the public was invited inside for a guided tour of the new $8.58 million facility.

During the tour, representatives from the Corps, MZT construction and Forest Service discussed the environmental and functional aspects of the building’s layout and design, such as an open floor plan, the 24 solar panels on the roof that will sustain the building, ample parking for both the public and staff and native plant landscaping. The new ranger station also has a conference room that will be available to the public at no charge, which seats up to 50 people and will offer a drop-down screen and projector for public meetings.