By DENNIS WYATT
The coolest spot to see spring moseying toward summer in the Manteca-Ripon area can be found along the Stanislaus River in one of the few remaining stands of riparian woodland in the Central Valley.
Not only does the thick canopy of oaks drop the temperature by 10 degrees by the time summer rolls around but when the evening Delta breezes kick in Caswell Memorial State Park becomes even cooler.
And if you're looking for a good old-fashioned dip in a river with very clear water, Caswell has two popular beaches — Willow Beach and Salmon Bend Camp Beach.
Willow Beach is by far the main attraction. Ironically you'll find more Bay Area folks taking advantage of the natural swimming along the Stanislaus River at Caswell than you will nearby residents.
Right now the weekend crowds are fairly light but that will change as temperatures start their annual climb to the 90 degree mark and beyond.
Water levels are reasonable and the water will soon warm enough to swim, float, or play beach ball volleyball. Be warned, though, that spring snow melt releases could change the situation although flows may not get much higher than they are now.
You will not find another beach-river combo in the 209 as pleasant with a definite lazy feel although the Stanislaus between Knights Ferry and Caswell have some pleasant access points where you can have shaded water play such as McHenry Recreation Area south of Escalon off River Road. But they don't have the beach or the expansive woodlands complete with trails to explore. Nor do you have very many options for camping as you do at Caswell.
The day use fee is $10.
This popular recreational destination is located about six miles south of Manteca at the end of South Austin Road. In addition to camping, fishing and guided nature trail facilities, the park also can be reserved for big and small school groups looking for a field-trip destination.
However, here’s a reminder for those who are planning to visit the park in the spring and summer months: make your camping reservations early.
The campsites are typically sold out a week or two in advance from mid-May to September
To avoid the rush, make your reservation early. The park can take reservations up to seven months in advance.
For camping reservations and park information, call 1.800.444-PARK.
For information about reserving the park for school field trips, call the park office at 209.599.3810.
You can reach Caswell by taking the Austin Road exit on Highway 99 and travel south to the road’s terminus where it takes you to the park’s entrance.
Also wilderness refuge
And while Caswell Memorial State Park is known to many as a recreational destination, it is also a 258-acre wilderness refuge along made possible by the generosity of the Caswell family.
You can still catch a glimpse of the pristine oak-riparian woodlands that once flourished throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Caswell Memorial State Park was donated to the state by the Caswell family in 1950 as a memorial to Thomas Caswell and his sons, Wallace and Charles Henry Caswell.
Henry and Helen Caswell’s daughter Mary Buckman described Caswell as “the biggest oak grove in the whole Central Valley, and the only one that’s been untouched by any development except for the little path that goes through it.”
Bucknam said their grandfather had always intended to preserve the oak forest at the Ripon Ranch for future generations to enjoy.
That original parkland donated to the state by Jennie Whitmore Caswell, Helen Cross Caswell and her children — Earl Caswell, Mary Caswell Bucknam, Ruth Caswell Jorgensen, and Edith Caswell Wheeler — totaled 134 acres.
The family then sold the rest of the 640-acre property that the state would not accept.
The park officially opened to the public in 1958.