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Caswell Park: A real ‘cool’ spot

Swimming in Stanislaus River, 258 acres of riparian woodlands make a big spalsh

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Caswell Park: A real ‘cool’ spot

Caswell State Park’s river access offers stunning scenery as well as a cool time

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED May 12, 2012 1:28 a.m.

A unique Central Valley gem encompassing 258 acres awaits those venturing to the southern end of Austin Road south of Manteca and west of Ripon.

It is there within the confines of Caswell State Memorial Park you’ll find the biggest remaining stand of Central Valley oak-riparian woodlands. It’s not by chance that the Great Valley Museum each year celebrates the end of the tule fog season at Caswell. Tule fog is a unique Central Valley jewel just like the riparian woodlands at Caswell State Park.

Nor is it by chance in the valley heat that many make repeat treks to enjoy one of the best river access points for swimming - as well as a river beach - in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

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.

To truly appreciate the Central Valley as Mother Nature intended as well as the Central Valley that man has created one should spend an afternoon in each of the four seasons 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 thick woodlands bustling with birds, small critters such as the endangered riparian rabbit, poison 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.

In a few weeks you’ll find the mosquitoes extremely annoying. That’s how it was in the valley until perhaps three to four decades ago. The vector control effort is so successful we no longer realize how thick and annoying mosquitoes are when left uncontrolled in these parts.

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 s 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 elsewhere.

It is also here that several species, specifically the rare riparian rabbit, are making their last stand. Thanks to efforts by California State University at Stanislaus biologists and students, the rabbit is making a comeback and has even been spotted elsewhere - specifically on the river side of levees at River Islands at Lathrop.

Like most state parks, there is camping and day use areas available. 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, Ripon, and Turlock.

The one thing that won’t happen the first time visiting Caswell State Park is feeling you’ve been there before.

There is nothing else like it in California.



209 staff reporter


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