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Escaping the heat
Balch Park offers beauty, recreation, serenity
BALCH PARK — An area hidden wonder, Balch Park — said to be one of the area’s most beautiful places — is open for the summer.
Hiking trails, fishing and camping is available at the park with numerous other natural attractions — including more ponds and fishing areas, archeological mysteries, historical monuments, the Hidden Falls waterfalls, and the Moses Gulch, a narrow river with rushing white ribbons of water — all situated within five miles of the park in the adjacent Mountain Home State Forest.
“It’s a nice, hidden gem. We don’t want others to discover it,” said Warren Carter of Long Beach, Tuesday, June 19. “It’s gorgeous. I love the peace and solitude and camping along the Giant Sequoia groves — amazing things. It really puts things in perspective, shows us how small we are in comparison. We’re but a speck of sand.”
Carter said he was hooked on the area at age 20 when his USC camping club took a trip to Frazier Mill. Afterward he visited alone and eventually with his children.
“I fell in love with the area,” Carter said. “I enjoy hiking, walking, chilling, sitting, reading and doing nothing.”
When the crowds arrive, Carter leaves — typically arriving on a Monday and clearing out before the weekend rush.
The rising temperatures, rising gas prices, and students out of school for the summer throughout the Valley, has contributed to the steady flow of people visiting Balch Park, said Park Ranger Rick Wiley, who has been at the park for six years.
“There’s more people each year. With the gas up, they are all vacationing closer to home. We have lots of people coming up from the Los Angeles, Bakersfield, San Diego and Fresno areas,” Wiley said. “They enjoy the area and the trees — which are multiplying like crazy.”
Many of the people who visit, arrived by accident — confusing Highway 190 to Sequoia National Forest in lieu of Highway 198 to Sequoia National Park, Wiley said.
“It doesn’t really matter how or why they came, once they get here, they love it,” Wiley said.
The beauty and serenity of the area — green meadows, scented pines, colorful flowers, huge Redwoods and Giant Sequoias — is only one reason many people flock to the area.
In addition, Balch Park sports a cabin, picnic area, museum, visitor center, a hollow log — large enough to walking inside, a sawed off tree and two ponds — referred to as upper and lower — that are regularly stocked with catchable fish by the California Department of Fish and Game.
On Tuesday afternoon, 350 pounds of Rainbow Trout were delivered to each of the two Balch Park ponds and nearby Hedrick Pond.
“We’ve been here two days and are really enjoying it,” said James Breland of Porterville as he fished with his son, Dalton, 11. “This is one of my favorite places. I’ve been coming since I was 10 years old. We come at least two times a year and stay in a tent for at least a week at a time.”
At the lower pond, Tony and Lupe Guzman waited quietly for fish to bite the bait on their fishing rods. They had arrived Tuesday and planned on staying for three to four days.
The retired couple visit Balch Park three to four times a year, particularly once the weather gets hot, fishing through the day and taking walks in the evening.
“The scenery is what we come up here for, the fishing is just a plus. If we’re lucky we’ll have some for dinner tonight and maybe take some home when we leave,” Tony Guzman said. “I’ve been coming here since the 1960’s when the road was still a dirt logging road.”
Nearby at a camping site adjacent to the lake, Candi Gonzalez, with the help of 4-year-old Kylee Gonzalez, swept dirt out of a small trailer while her husband showered in a nearby portable shower. Gonzalez said she visits once or twice a year. The family arrived Friday, and had numerous friends and relatives join them through the weekend.
“We always bring a lot of kids between all of us and have a tradition, if they catch a first fish, they have to kiss it,” Candy Gonzalez said and added that the honor fell upon 9-year-old Jacob Castanon this year. “This morning we came out early and saw a black bear but once we saw a mama bear and cubs. We love the outdoors. I’m glad we’re up here. It’s an annual thing. Growing up, we’d come up every year for three to four days.”
Camping at the park is available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the park’s 71 camping sites. Fees are $16 a night — $8 for ages 62 and older.
Day use — including fishing, with a license, at one of the park’s two ponds — is also available at $1 per person.
“No reservation is needed but this place fills up fast on weekends,” Wiley said. “On [June 15-17] we had 66 of the 71 sites taken. It’s been steady all year. We get people from every part of the world. Last week there was a group here from Switzerland who brought their own car. They said they had it shipped to South America and drove all the way here.”
The park — 190 acres at a 6450 to 7000 foot elevation — has running water, but no showers, swimming or boating.
The museum has no admission fee and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.