By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
THREE RIVERS – Summertime in Three Rivers is a hub of activity as 2 million people travel through the gateway community to Sequoia National Park. And while business is based on tourism, local businesses are tired of serving as a rest stop for customers who travel great distances to see the majestic sequoias just up the road.
That’s because there aren’t any public restrooms in Three Rivers, which has clogged businesses in the community for decades. But it may not be a problem for future summer tourism seasons.
At its June 12 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a $250,000 donation to the Three Rivers Historical Society to install public restrooms at its museum. Tom Marshall, president of the historical society, said an expansion of the museum was already being planned when the issue of public restrooms arose.
“It will be nice not to worry about poison oak and rattlesnakes when I use the bathroom in Three Rivers anymore,” supervisor Amy Shuklian joked.
The Three Rivers Museum has been open for 17 years and acts as a county visitor center for the area before people enter the federal lands, and the number of visitors continues to grow. The museum served more than 5,600 visitors in 2015, which more than doubled to 12,700 last year. The museum is also a popular stop for the Sequoia Shuttle. In 2017, 13 percent of the overall ridership boarded the shuttle at the museum, according to the City of Visalia.
Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, who represents Three Rivers on the board, said the effort to build a public restroom in Three Rivers dates back to the 1990s when Bill Sanders was the District 1 supervisor.
“This is a great benefit and more of a regional asset,” Crocker said. “People on the Sequoia Shuttle are often from out of the area.”
The $250,000 would include grading, the bathroom building, plumbing, parking lot paving, septic, electrical, signage, fixtures, stalls, water heater. The museum has already paid for architecture and engineering designs. The restrooms should be open before the summer tourism season in 2019. Marshall said the historical society has already raised more than $100,000 which will go toward an estimated $400,000 project to expand its exhibitor space. Phase 2 of the museum’s expansion would construct a 2,400-square foot barn-like structure for historical exhibits. A second floor storage loft may be included in Phase 2 or in a third and final phase.
The museum has an additional $30,000 set aside to help upgrade the onsite water system by installing a new well and an 8,000 gallon water tank for fire suppression. Cindy Howell with the Three Rivers Community Services District (CSD) said the lack of restrooms have been a problem since she moved to the community as a young girl. She said the CSD donated $22,500 to the museum to complete a public restroom project they had started more than a decade ago and were unable to complete.
“It’s nice to see the museum come forward with some skin in the game,” said supervisor Pete Vander Poel.
The $250,000 approved by the supervisors will be included in the 2018-19 budget and come out of the County Administrative Office Miscellaneous Administration Account. Supervisor Steve Worthley said regardless of what account the money comes from, this project was a perfect example of how money raised through the transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax, at local lodgings should be spent.
“Those funds are how we give back and reinvest in the communities to promote more tourism,” Worthley said.