The Kaweah Commonwealth weekly newspaper in Three Rivers published its first issue 20 years ago today and is still going strong, thanks to faithful advertisers and an audience passionate about Sequoia National Park news.
The newspaper’s success is also a testament to the dedication of publishers John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott.
“We’re the last weekly between Kernville and Mariposa” serving unincorporated mountain or foothill communities, John said.
They owe a lot to advertisers, he said: “We’ve had advertisers with us for the whole 20 years.”
John, formerly a historian, landed in Tulare County in the 1980s when he was hired by the Mineral King Preservation Society to help save the cabins at Mineral King in the Sierra Nevada above Three Rivers.
He met and married Sarah Barton, a fifth-generation Three Rivers resident who grew up with Sequoia National Park as her backyard, and the couple bought the old Sequoia Sentinel newspaper.
The first thing they did was change the name.
On a trip to the California State Library in Sacramento, John made copies of the original Kaweah Commonwealth journal published by the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony utopian community of the late 1800s.
On the drive home, he glanced at the pile of papers on the passenger seat and thought to himself, “That’s what I’ll call the paper — the Kaweah Commonwealth.”
Sarah enthusiastically agreed, and they designed a new masthead based on the original that captures the spirit of an earlier era.
“When we first changed the name, people said we must be communists or hippies,” John said.
His inaugural article was about Mike Tollefson being named superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and coverage of the national parks remains a Kaweah Commonwealth mainstay.
“It’s in our backyard,” he said. “A lot of communities think they are the gateway to the Sequoias — it’s in Three Rivers. No one can touch us for the knowledge of the park.”
The Kaweah Commonwealth, paid circulation 500, is now keeping up with the digital era.
“We went online with an online subscription, and the first one was from Germany,” John said. “We’re digitizing all 20 years and it’ll be searchable. The print is what it is, but the website? The sky’s the limit.”
Next: Sarah and daughter Jennie Elliott, 26, are planning a month-long summer hike on the John Muir Trail and will electronically send in stories and photos about their adventure.
There’s no succession plan in place but John said he’s not worried.
“We don’t have an heir apparent but someday a couple of folks will come along,” he said, “just like we did.”