By DENNIS WYATT
Who needs fall in New England when you have Caswell State Park within a short and colorful drive away?
The 258 acres criss-crossed with endless nature trails is usually a subdued- yet lush - green for most of the year. But before it goes into its stark mode for wintry hibernation the riparian woodlands burst forth in a brilliant coat of yellow, orange, red, brown and green.
Especially stunning are the fall colors of shrubs and tree crowding the banks of the Stanislaus River that are reflected in the ripples of the water.
There is still an abundance of wildlife from birds to squirrels. The odds of spying a riparian rabbit — this is one of the few areas left in the Central Valley where the endangered species lives — are not high this time of year as they are preparing for the colder days ahead.
The summer camping and swimming crowds are gone. And while the solitude doesn’t quite match a winter day enshrouded with tule fog, Caswell tends to be quite peaceful this time of year.
The mild fall has added to the palate at Caswell by slowing down the transition from summer to fall -to winter. usually it can happen in three weeks or less. But the mild weather has slowed down the shedding of leaves.
Caswell State Park is unique for a number of reasons including its natural river access. But its biggest claim to fame is that it is the largest standing riparian woodlands still remaining in the Central Valley. Over 97 percent of the woodlands that were along the banks of the San Joaquin River and its tributaries when gold was discovered in 1849 have since been cleared away. Besides being the largest, it is considered the best remaining riparian woodlands that are still declining elsewhere.
The trails are easy to hike and are handicapped accessible.
Caswell State Park - while arguably one of the best kept secrets in South San Joaquin County - has a solid following among Bay Area visitors who flock to the unique setting for camping, fishing, and swimming during the summer.
Caswell State park is open for day use 8 a.m. to sunset daily. The entrance fee is $8 per vehicle. The Caswell State Park number is 599-3810.
Caswell State Park is at 28000 S. Austin Road in Ripon.