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Cooler weather, less crowds

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Weekend crowds are starting to thin out at Caswell State Park as the start of fall draws near.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED September 13, 2017 12:50 a.m.

Now that the summer crowds are thinning out and the temperatures are peaking in the 80s instead of past the century mark, it is a good time to visit Caswell State Park.
It’s the coolest spot in the Manteca-Ripon area without the aid of air conditioning. It can be found along the Stanislaus River at the southern end of Austin Road in one of the few remaining stands of riparian woodland in the Central Valley.
Not only does the thick canopy of oaks drop the temperature by 10 degrees but when the evening Delta breezes kick in Caswell Memorial State Park becomes even cooler.
And if you’re looking for a good old-fashioned dip in a river with very clear water, Caswell has two popular beaches — Willow Beach and Salmon Bend Camp Beach.
Willow Beach is by far the main attraction. Ironically you’ll often find more Bay Area folks taking advantage of the natural swimming along the Stanislaus River at Caswell than you will nearby residents.
You will not find another beach-river combo in the region as pleasant with a definite lazy feel although the Stanislaus between Knights Ferry and Caswell have some pleasant access points where you can have shaded water play such as McHenry Recreation Area south of Escalon off River Road. But they don’t have the beach or the expansive woodlands complete with trails to explore. Nor do you have very many options for camping as you do at Caswell.
The day use fee is $10 on weekdays and $12 on weekends.
This state park is located about six miles south of Manteca at the end of South Austin Road. In addition to camping, fishing and guided nature trail facilities, the park also can be reserved for big and small school groups looking for a field-trip destination.
The campsites are typically sold out a week or two in advance from mid-May to September. But now that October is drawing near, you can make a fairly short notice mini-camping vacation.
For camping reservations and park information, call 1.800.444-PARK.
For information about reserving the park for school field trips, call the park office at 209.599.3810.
You can reach Caswell by taking the Austin Road exit on Highway 99 and travel south to the road’s terminus where it takes you to the park’s entrance.
Also wilderness refuge
And while Caswell Memorial State Park is known to many as a recreational destination, it is also a 258-acre wilderness refuge along made possible by the generosity of the Caswell family.
You can still catch a glimpse of the pristine oak-riparian woodlands that once flourished throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Caswell Memorial State Park was donated to the state by the Caswell family in 1950 as a memorial to Thomas Caswell and his sons, Wallace and Charles Henry Caswell.
Henry and Helen Caswell’s daughter Mary Buckman described Caswell as “the biggest oak grove in the whole Central Valley, and the only one that’s been untouched by any development except for the little path that goes through it.”
Bucknam said their grandfather had always intended to preserve the oak forest at the Ripon Ranch for future generations to enjoy.
That original parkland donated to the state by Jennie Whitmore Caswell, Helen Cross Caswell and her children — Earl Caswell, Mary Caswell Bucknam, Ruth Caswell Jorgensen, and Edith Caswell Wheeler — totaled 134 acres.
The family then sold the rest of the 640-acre property that the state would not accept.
The park officially opened to the public in 1958.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email

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