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Foggy future for Tule Fog Fete
Guided nature tours are part of the Tule Fog Fete at Caswell State Park.
RIPON – Caswell State Memorial Park in Ripon is home to a number of endangered species.

Another one could be added to that list: the annual Tule Fog Fete, the popular educational festival that has served as the unofficial celebration marking the end of the valley’s infamous tule fog and the beginning of spring.

If that happens, the Tule Fog Fete will go down in history as yet another victim of the state’s budget crisis, with the Golden State’s projected deficit currently at $27 billion.

There’s a little bit of hope, however. The decision to end the fog fete at Caswell is not yet cast in stone, according to a staff member at the Modesto Junior College Museum of Natural History which has been sponsoring the educational and fun event at Caswell for about two decades.

Other alternatives to ending the Tule Fog Fete are still being explored. These include possibly changing the venue for the festival while still calling it as a celebration to say goodbye to the fog season, finding another place to hold a nature-oriented educational event and calling it by a different name, or continue maintaining the status quo while finding ways to make it easier on the pocket book for the sponsors and the slew of volunteers involved.

The concern boils down to money and using it wisely, especially in these days of widespread international, national and local budget crisis affecting all levels of the government and the private sector.

A case in point to illustrate this fiscal dilemma is the March 6 tule fog fete, or the lack of it. The date was set for Sunday, March 6. However, because of the rain, it was cancelled. Previous announcements in the Bulletin that the event would be moved to another weekend in the event of rain were not correct. That was the case last year, which was the only time that the festival had two dates announced.

“It takes us a long time to organize it,” pointed out Tana Denne, the manager of the nature shop at the Great Valley Museum.

She said they have to obtain several permits way in advance for the use of Caswell Park, as well as for food and parking. They also have to buy the food that would be sold at concession stands as a fund-raiser, not to mention organizing and taking everything out to the park that day and all the clean-up involved afterwards. After all that fiscal and manpower effort “and then not to do it – it’s disappointing,” especially now that the museum is in dire financial straits like everybody else, Dennen said.

They can’t possibly hold the event rain or shine because “we don’t have tents” to use, Denne said. The bluegrass band members who provide the al fresco entertainment every year “couldn’t have their instruments wet,” she said. They also bring “a lot of supplies from the museum as well as animals, birds and insects” to the festival which would all need protection from the wet elements, she added.

“We’re thinking we might move it to another date when it doesn’t rain. But it’s a celebration of the fog season and the winter, so if we do change it and move it to another month, we’ll have to change the name (of the event),” Dennen said.

Compounding all that dilemma is California’s financial crisis that could put many state parks on the chopping block for funding leading to possible closures. Dennen noted that half of the area at Caswell that are utilized for the fog fete has not been accessible. “They’ve locked up the road to that area,” she said.

The museum, which also sponsors nature classes at Caswell for various schools in the region, could consider going to other parks in the area such as the Tuolumne River and the Stanislaus River for their activities.

Hoping a Friends of Caswell group is formed

Dennen suggested that a guild or auxiliary – perhaps a Friend of Caswell Park group – could help the museum maintain its programs at the park located at the end of South Austin Road in Ripon to the edge of the meandering Stanislaus River.

Putting together such a volunteer group to maintain Caswell is exactly what Thomas Parker and wife Shirley Lee of Manteca are considering. The two who are now retired, love the park and often go there to walk under the majestic oak trees as part of their daily exercise regimen. They noted the closed-off hiking places and the lack of staff at the entrance to make sure every park visitor pays the $8 fee at the gate.

Parker said he and his wife are thinking of forming a volunteer group that would be dedicated to maintaining the cleanliness and integrity of the park. However, they were not sure how to get that started. On Wednesday afternoon, Parker said he will start getting more information to that end by doing research work online on the state park’s web site. He said he and his wife would be interested in getting together with other people who are interested in forming such a volunteer group.

The California State Parks does have a web site where the Parkers and other interested individuals can sign up as volunteers. They can access the sign-up page by logging on to

On the same web site also is information about Prop. 21 slated for the Nov. 2 statewide ballot which would create the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund that would “provide a stable, reliable and adequate source of funding for the state park system, for wildlife conservation and for increased and equitable access to those resources for all Californians.”

Additionally, Prop 21 would give California vehicles free day-use admission to the state parks in exchange for a new $18 vehicle license fee that would be “specifically dedicated to state parks and wildlife conservation.”

The Tule Fog Festival at Caswell Park has become very popular through the years not only because it is set in the pristine and wild beauty of this last stand of valley oak trees along the Stanislaus River with its rich riparian and woodland habitats; it is also a family-oriented event with bluegrass music, guided nature walks, live native animals, educational science and hands-on nature stations plus storytelling and crafts with hot food and drinks available for purchase.

Caswell Memorial State Park, which grew from the donation made by the Caswell family who farmed this area at the southern terminus of Austin Road, can be reached by taking Highway 99 to the Austin Road exit and then going south on Austin until it ends at the park.