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Caswell awaits Sundays annual Tule Fog Fete
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• WHAT: Tule Fog Fete
• WHEN: Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• WHERE: Caswell State Memorial Park at the southern end of Austin Road.
• ADMISSION TO PARK: $5 per person or $15 per carload

There’s a hidden gem along the banks of the Stanislaus River.

With subtle bends and sweeping beaches, Caswell State Park – which escaped the chopping block after it was put on a list of possible closures – has been a tranquil getaway for families and visitors for decades.

And while the chilly weather and overcast skies aren’t conducive to the activities that draw most visitors to the park – like slowly drifting along with the current in tubes and holing up on the riverfront campgrounds – there are more than a few advantages to visiting during this time of the year.

Thanks to the wet winter months we’ve already had, the vegetation throughout the oak grove is thick, lush and green and provides a beautiful contrast to the stark bare trees that help provide the shady canopy that makes Caswell seem like an oasis.

While people are still packing the roads every weekend to get up to the Sierra for ski sessions and backpacking trips, Caswell is virtually a ghost-town – giving those who want to the peaceful serenity of nature a place right in their own backyard where they can turn without having to venture too far from home.

Despite the fact that evidence of the winter storms like broken branches and floodwater-marred streets is still visible throughout the park, the mild blight is a small price to pay for the gorgeous views and quality quiet time that a weekend at the winter in Caswell can afford.

On Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the park will host the annual Tule Fog Fete to celebrate the end of the fog season in the Central Valley and the approach of spring in the agriculturally-rich San Joaquin Valley.

The family-oriented festival features bluegrass music; guided nature walks; live, native animals; educational science and hands-on nature stations, storytelling and crafts. Hot food and drinks will be available for purchase. Staged as a fundraiser for the Great Valley Museum of Modesto Junior College, it is an ideal way to celebrate the end of the fog season and the approach of spring as the largest remaining stand of rare riparian and oak woodland prepares to come out of its winter slumber. Riparian woodlands once covered much of the valley. Today, almost 98 percent of what existed in 1850 is gone.

Admission is $5 per person or $15 per carload.

It’s a great opportunity to take guided nature walks and learn more about the remaining stand of rare riparian and oak woodland that used to cover much of the valley. Hosted by the Great Valley Museum of Modesto Junior College, the event helps promote awareness of the South County’s natural habitat as well as add insight to the natural history of what once stood here.

And wildlife is abundant in Caswell as things start to come back to life after a long winter slumber.

Rabbits from along nearby levees dance their way down to the water while parents and children splash and play, and chipmunks and squirrels scurry from tree to tree and campsite to campsite looking for the next food scrap.

Ducks tracing the river are common in the early morning drizzle.

Even though it might not be Yosemite Valley, a quick escape to Caswell might be the best way to break out of the day-to-day monotony without having to book reservations months in advance.

It’s a chance to experience home in a whole new way. And that alone makes it worth visiting.