Sterling City’s Clotilde Merlo Park

May 12, 2023

Sterling City’s Clotilde Merlo Park

May 12, 2023

Nestled in the old mill town of Sterling City at an elevation of 3500 feet is Clotilde Merlo Park, a special place known by only a few. And many of those who do know about this place have never taken a road trip up the Skyway to discover for themselves its 20 acres of natural beauty.

The privately owned and operated grounds are maintained by the Harry A. Merlo foundation. The park is dedicated to Merlo's Italian mother, Clotilde Camussa Merlo, and also to the original settlers of the community, many whom were, like Clotilde, immigrants. These early pioneers helped build the Diamond Match Lumber Company in Sterling City; the success of the mill and lumberyard was due to them.

Clotilde, widowed in WWI, left northern Italy for the United States seeking a better life and a decent education for her young son. She met and married Joseph Merlo, an Italian immigrant widower with two young children, and together they built a life in the mountains around the mill. Three boys were born of this union: John, Harry, and Frank. Clotilde ran a boarding house for the Diamond Sawmill. Her children helped with the chores at the boarding house, as well as helping to tend a large vegetable garden, and raising and caring for rabbits, goats, and pigs.

Sterling City was a company town in those days, meaning that housing and food were all purchased from the company. As was so often the case with company towns in industrializing America, many workers and their families became heavily indebted to the company. Their paycheck-to-paycheck existence could not cover debts incurred for daily living expenses. Yet, even with this harsh reality, fond memories of life on the mountain were passed down to family members. These idyllic times of childhood joy are captured in a series of playful bronze sculptures placed throughout the park.

A quote that Clotilde took to heart, “Chi non lavora, non deve maiare mangiare (if you don't work, you don't eat), was instilled in her children. Hard working and frugal, Clotilde moved to Berkeley following WWII with her three youngest sons, helping them work their way through the University of California.

After graduation, Clotilde's second son, Harry, went to work at a lumber company. He eventually became the CEO and president of the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation (when Harry died in 2016, more than one obituary referred to him as “the last of the great timber chiefs”). Harry never forgot his roots, or the life lessons learned from his mother who had a profound influence on his achievements. Harry's character was shaped not only by his mother but also by growing up in Sterling City and the work ethic found around the mill. To honor that legacy, Harry began purchasing land and buying up old homesteads in the area that once housed immigrant Italian families.

Harry's land purchases now make up the twenty-acre Clotilde Merlo Park. Walking along the boardwalks and footpaths, visitors are comforted by the area's natural beauty and tranquility. Three large ponds are surrounded by Ponderosa pine, sugar pine, incense cedar, white fir, Douglas fir, black oak and quaking Aspen trees. When in season, roses, rhododendrons, and shade-loving flowers bloom. Blacktail deer and grey squirrels inhabit the park, and multitudes of birds feast from and live in its trees and shrubs. Trout abound in the pond; fish food can be purchased on-site for a small fee. Feeding the trout is fun for young and old alike, but there is a no fishing rule. The fish are there to enjoy, not to eat.

In addition to the “no fishing” rule, pets, smoking, swimming, bikes and skateboards are also prohibited. These rules support the quiet, contemplative atmosphere found at the park. The good news is that there are picnic areas, restrooms, a horseshoe pit, and a bocce ball court on site. Sterling City is also noticeably cooler than the valley in the summer months, so a picnic in the park can be a refreshing outing.

Clotilde Merlo Park is scheduled to reopen for the season Sunday, May 14, in honor of Mother's Day. It will resume its regular hours of 10:00am -7:00pm Thursdays through Sundays. The drive through the forested landscape is an easy and beautiful one from either Chico or Oroville. Consider spending a day in the park!

For more information and directions to the park, go to Explore Butte County | Clotilde Merlo Park

MASTER GARDENERS PLANT SALE THIS SUNDAY!  Mark your calendar for our plant sale onSunday, May 14, 2023 from 9am to noon.  The sale will be held at the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden at Patrick Ranch, 10381 Midway, Durham.  The plants, which are selected to thrive in our climate, have been propagated by UC Master Gardeners of Butte County. For more information and a list of the plants that will available, see our website.

UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at or leave a phone message on our Hotline at (530) 538-7201. To speak to a Master Gardener about a gardening issue, or to drop by the MG office during Hotline hours, see the most current information on our Ask Us section of our website.