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Visitors enjoy Caswell thanks to reprieve
The meandering Stanislaus River affords summertime visitors a chance to cool off and gives anglers a chance and catching any one of a number of species. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
RIPON – Modesto resident William Wood had never been to Caswell Memorial State Park before he and wife headed out last week for a few days of rest and relaxation.

With the word coming from Sacramento that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will spare the 220 state parks that were on the chopping block earlier this summer, Wood thinks he can get used to the sprawling oak groves and the serene Stanislaus River that has been in his backyard for nearly all of his life.

“I’ve always known that it was here, but I never had any burning desire to come here and go camping,” said Wood. “We enjoy camping, and since its close we figured that it would be something worth checking out and we were definitely right.

“It’s a beautiful park, and even with the rates going up recently to offset the budget it’s still very much worth it.”

Campers can now expect to pay $30 for the privilege of spending the night along the meandering river, fully outfitted campsites that include paved parking for both family and group sites that allow for access to the endless hiking trails and the shaded sections afforded by the valley oak trees that are seemingly everywhere.

While it has long been a popular spot for locals during the hot summer months – despite the fact that the park is open year-round with a temperate climate that makes activities from fishing to wildlife watching possible – the park has also been an attraction for those who appreciate its peaceful nature despite being relatively close to civilization.

With the entrance just at the end of Austin Road, the world inside, a virtual maze of canopy-covered roadways that wind through the entire 258 acres, seems hundreds of miles away from the hustle and the bustle of the Central Valley and the commute-clogged highways that are literally only a stone’s throw away.

“For being just a half-an-hour away from home you really get the chance to be out here in the middle of nowhere, and that’s not something that you find every day,” Wood said. “The people that we’ve met here have been so nice, and the rangers that have come by every day have been great – we have nothing but nice things to say about our stay here.”

Because of its relatively small size, Caswell was most likely one of the first on the chopping block if the state would have pushed through with plans that would have closed as many as 220 parks – including the famed Angel Island that overlooks San Francisco.

While California’s budget gap is far from being closed, the parks themselves – including Caswell – are only getting a one-year exemption before they might be back on the table for further cuts.

If Schwarzenegger were to shutter what some consider being part of the fabric of California and one of the jewels of the Golden State, he’s the first governor in the 108-year history of the park system to close the doors of any site in particular.

Instead he directed staffers to cut $14.2 million from the parks budget this year – something that will no doubt impact the daily use of some of the more popular parks – just as California is gearing up to face a $7.4 billion deficit next year.

But for the time being, Elizabeth Wood was enjoying the mild weather with her husband while she still had a place close to home – even if it was a relatively new place – where she could unwind and appreciate some of the best that Mother Nature has to offer.

“We’re right here in one of the richest agricultural regions in the world, and out here it feels like we’re thousands of miles away from anywhere,” she said. “There’s no sign that you’re right here n the heart of civilization, and that’s a refreshing thing.”