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Caswell State Park to remain open for now
Thomas Parker and Shirley Lee of Manteca are hoping to form a group of volunteers to help maintain Caswell Memorial State Park and keep it open should it fall victim to the state budget cuts. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Caswell Memorial State Park or any state park, for that matter, is not on the California budget’s “chopping block” – at least for now.

That’s the word from State Park Superintendent Bill Lutton who oversees three state parks in the Central Valley District – Turlock Lake State Recreation Area where he maintains an office, Bethany Reservoir in Alameda off Highway 208, and nearby Caswell Park south of Manteca.

“At this point, I haven’t been advised of any park being closed,” Lutton said in a telephone interview.

His comment came on the heels of a drive being launched by Tom Parker and Shirley Lee of Manteca to form a volunteer group that would help maintain the Central Valley’s last stand of majestic oaks along the Stanislaus River as the possibility of state parks closures loom in the face of California’s $27 billion projected budget deficit in the coming fiscal year. Parker and wife Lee are frequent visitors at the pristine natural woodland barely six miles south of Manteca at the end of South Austin Road where they take walks under the canopy of majestic oak trees that once covered this inland California area for hundreds of years. When they heard that Caswell may be closed due to the state’s budget woes, the couple immediately took action. They contacted the California state parks system online and were told to meet with Lutton, which they did late last week.

Lutton said he met personally with the couple on Thursday.

“They’ve taken a volunteer application and we’re looking forward” to having them as volunteers, the parks superintendent said of Parker and Lee.

Lutton said California’s state parks have a program called Volunteer in Parks. “That (information) is what I provided to Tom and Shirley. We’ll get their applications processed.”

However, a volunteer non-profit group that Parker and Lee would like to form would have to be a separate entity from the state parks, one that would have its own by-laws, Lutton explained. It’s an involved process to get a group like that established, “but it’s a worthwhile endeavor,” he said. They could take on projects such as visitors’ education and services at Caswell, he added.

Volunteers already working at Caswell

Caswell Park has been taking advantage of the contributions of volunteers for years, Lutton said. He mentioned a couple who have been overseeing the camp sites as an example. There’s also Ron Martin who has been helping with the maintenance at the park over the years. Lutton said Martin has met with Parker and Lee.

Commenting on the observations made by the Manteca couple during recent visits to Caswell about the absence of a personnel to make sure visitors pay day-use or camping fees at the park entrance, Lutton said that budget constraints just don’t make it possible to have someone doing that all the time.

“We’re counting on people’s integrity” to pay the required fees at the park entrance, Lutton said.

While the park remains open, funding for state parks is, in the word of Lutton, strained as the Golden State continues to be strangled by an ever-tightening budget crisis. In light of that fiscal dilemma, the budget allocations for parks are suffering “substantial cuts,” said Lutton.

Residents stepping up to the plate to help Caswell

In the meantime, Parker and Lee’s call for volunteers is attracting some good responses. One recent caller who contacted the Bulletin and asked to be connected to the couple is Ray Valdez, a Vietnam veteran who has been retired for four years after working at the Sharpe Depot in Lathrop and Tracy Depot for a total of 23 years. Valdez said he would like to contribute his work experience and skills with machineries such as dump trucks, back hoes, and bobcats.

“I’ve done a bit of grass cutting, especially with the bobcats,” he said, adding, he is willing to “help clean up” the park and do “labor work – whatever needs to be done.”

His wife, who brought to his attention the article in the Manteca Bulletin about the need for volunteers at Caswell, has driven past Caswell Park “but I’ve never been there before,” Valdez admitted.

Shirley Lee said that as of Monday, nearly half a dozen prospective volunteers have responded so far to be included in the list. The couple will continue to work on establishing and organizing a Friends of Caswell-type of group to help support and maintain this nature’s gem in Manteca’s backyard.

Anyone interested in becoming a part of the volunteer group that Parker and Lee are trying to organize can contact them at

The California State Parks also has a web site where interested individuals can sign up as volunteers. They can access the sign-up page by logging on to