OAKHURST – The vacant lot between two banks at the junction of Highways 41 and 49 hasn’t really called much attention to itself, until now. There’s a new bear in town with a message: Welcome!
The 9-foot cedar bear weighs in at around 4,500 lbs. and was carved by local resident Ryan Demeusey. The welcome bear was installed on July 26, donated by the Eastern Madera Chamber of Commerce Foundation as part of their plan to further beautify the Oakhurst area.
With help from the Forest Service, the Foundation obtained the carved bear from the family of Duane L. Spooner, who recently passed away at age 91. Treasurer Karen White explains how the new bear found its new home.
“We have been maintaining this property and it’s not suitable for the public at this time, so we put up the fence around it and now we are putting out these carved bears.” The Foundation, along with woodcarver Demeusey, plans to install more bears at the site according to board member Randy Papike. Organizers plan a dedication plaque to honor Mr. Spooner, the carving’s original owner.
Longtime residents may remember that the bear’s new domain – the otherwise vacant lot – was once a Shell gas station, then an Exxon, and is the site of an “historical petroleum release,” according to Central Valley Water Board’s Lonnie Wass, Supervising Engineer on the project to monitor the levels of pollutants still remaining underground.
This may come as news to some who’ve migrated to the area in recent decades, familiar only with the nondescript vacant and newly fenced lot. When Environmental Protection Agency laws began to dictate that old underground gas tanks, subject to leaking, had to be removed and replaced with modern equipment, the cost was prohibitive enough to cause some gas station owners to subsequently walk away from their businesses.
“This is the site of a leaky underground fuel tank, with a shallow plume of petroleum pollutants,” says engineer Wass, “The plume runs underground into the parking lot across Highway 41.”
The site is monitored frequently and has been sampled as recently as one month ago. According to the Water Board, residue from the leaky tanks at that location has never been found in the Fresno River. Wass says the continual monitoring is leading up to a time in the not-too-distant future when the plume is stable and the case with the Water Board can be closed.
In the meantime, Oakhurst has a new bear and the bear has a home there.
“The foundation has made a commitment to beautify the entire Oakhurst area, with the bear here at Highway 41 and 49 being one aspect of that,” explains Foundation secretary White.
“We also have just completed a mural project at Highway 41 and 426 at Civic Circle Drive,” she continues. “Local artist Lindsey Preciado-Weaver did the mural work depicting our history and some important things in Madera County and in Oakhurst. We’re very happy with it. She did that mural by hand, without sketches, just from her mind. It’s pretty interesting!”
According to White, the Foundation primarily exists to help other foundations with grant funding, although they do some funding of their own. The Foundation is responsible for the Oakhurst River Parkway, a project that began many years ago.
White says the public is always welcome to contribute to the nonprofit Foundation with a fully tax deductible donation. “We’re very happy to do these projects, and we need volunteers, especially on the Oakhurst River Parkway.”
Turnout for Parkway clean-up days is often very low, with sometimes just a trio of Foundation Board members showing up and the group can use some help.
The project is led by Sandy Brinley who says the next Oakhurst River Parkway clean-up is scheduled for September. Stay tuned for details and until then, when you pass the junction, wave to the new bear!
For more information on any of these projects contact the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.