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Caswell State Park: Going, going, gone for years to come?

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POSTED May 29, 2009 1:39 a.m.
A unique Central Valley gem encompassing 258 acres awaiting those venturing to the southern end of Austin Road may soon be off limits.

It is within the confines of Caswell State Memorial Park you’ll find the biggest remaining stand of Central Valley oak-riparian woodlands. The creation of levees in the 1880s followed by the introduction of irrigated farming wiped out almost 97 percent of the valley’s oak-riparian woodlands.

The park will soon be a victim of self-indulgence by Californians whose idea of being responsible citizens is to keep getting in a car driven by a drunken driver then act surprised while screaming bloody murder when that driver ends up creating the Mother of All Pile-ups.

It is a shame but it is just a mere sliver of the price we’re all going to pay in the coming few years for collectively living beyond our means in a Never Never Land where revenues always go up and the bills never come due.

Whatever happens, Caswell State Park will surely be closed for years. This is not a tighten-up-our-belts-for-a-few-months type of crisis. Rest assured with two months to go before the state runs out of cash that by summer’s end Caswell State Park will be off limits

Caught up in the closure are a number of families – homeless families – that routinely use the park for the allowed time as a safe haven.

Social consequences aside, you really should make an effort to drop by Caswell State Park in the next few weeks before the opportunity is gone for years

It is a way to truly appreciate the Central Valley as Mother Nature intended as well as the Central Valley that man has created. Spend an afternoon wandering through the woodlands hugging the slow moving Stanislaus River that is still treacherous enough to claim drowning victims each year.

It is here you’ll find a thick woodland bustling with birds, small critters such as the endangered riparian rabbit, along withpoison oak, and mosquitoes as Mother Nature planned.

It is land like this that was cleared to help turn the 300-mile long Central Valley into the most bountiful farmland on the planet. Trees often weren’t big enough to use for building so they provided the fuel to drive industry, heat homes, and fuel steam engines.

It wasn’t wanton clear cutting. Instead it was done to develop the political state known as California which - depending upon which survey you follow - would stand as the seventh or eighth most powerful economy on the earth if it were an independent nation.

The loss of these woodlands to progress has had plenty of negative aspects. It was thick stands of woodlands like these that early settlers and native Indians as well as animals could retreat to in a bid to beat the valley heat that can easily top 100 degrees for days on end. The woodlands at Caswell Park provide a place in the shade that is often 10 degrees cooler than in Manteca or Ripon.

It is also here that several species, specifically the rare riparian rabbit, are making their last stand.

You can also fish with summer catches yielding largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass plus bullhead, sturgeon, bluegill, catfish, shad, and buffalo carp.

But if all you do is venture out to Caswell Park to enjoy hiking several hours along the numerous trails, it’s enough to appreciate the valley. You will get a glimpse of what oak land riparian ecosystem would have looked like before levees converted the Central Valley - especially near the modern-day Delta -  from virtual floodlands in winter and spring/dry desert-like land in summer and fall - to a teeming mish-mash of farming, commerce and housing.

You can come away from visiting Caswell with four different perspectives.

•You may be alarmed at what man has done to the Central Valley.

•You may be amazed at what man has done to the Central Valley.

•You may view it as a getaway from civilization to camp, hike, fish, or simply enjoy the river.

•You may be amazed that the 238-acre wildlife/state park refuge is so close to Manteca and Ripon.

Take some time to see Caswell State Park before it is too late.
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