Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 26,546-acre (41.48Â sqÂ mi; 10,742.79Â ha; 107.43Â km2) national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969. The lush trees growing in this floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the Eastern U.S., forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. The Congaree River flows through the park. About 57 percent (15,000 acres or 61 square kilometers) of the park is designated wilderness area.
In 1969, the Sierra Club launched a grassroots campaign to save this area of old growth forest from private landowners interested in relatively high timber prices. The result of this campaign was the establishment by Congress of Congaree Swamp National Monument on October 18, 1976. The national monument became an International Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983. Over two-thirds of the national monument was designated a wilderness area on October 24, 1988, and it became an Important Bird Area on July 26, 2001. Congress redesignated the monument Congaree National Park on November 10, 2003 and simultaneously expanded its authorized boundary by approximately 4,576 acres (1,852Â ha). As of December 31, 2011, approximately 26,021 acres (10,530Â ha) of the park are in Federal ownership.
The park preserves a significant part of the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion.
It has been designated an old growth forest. The park also has one of the largest concentrations of champion trees in the world.
Amenities and attractions
In addition to being a designated Wilderness Area, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area and a National Natural Landmark, Congaree National Park features primitive campsites and offers hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and bird watching. Bald cypress is a common tree in the park. Large animals possibly seen in the park include bobcats, deer, feral pigs, feral dogs, coyotes, armadillos and turkeys. Its waters contain interesting creatures like amphibians, turtles, snakes, alligators, and many types of fish, including bowfin, largemouth bass, panfish, and catfish. Primitive and backcountry camping is available. Some of the hiking trails include the Bluff Trail (0.7Â mi), Weston Lake Loop Trail (4.6Â mi), Oakridge Trail (7.5Â mi), and King Snake Trail (11.1Â mi) where hikers may spot deer, raccoon, opossum, and even bobcat tracks. The National Park Service rangers have current trail conditions which can be found in the Harry Hampton Visitorâs Center. Along with hiking trails, the park also has a 20-mile (32Â km) marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek.
Most visitors to the park walk along the Boardwalk Loop, an elevated 2.4-mile (3.9Â km) walkway through the swampy environment that protects delicate fungi and plant life at ground level. Congaree boasts both the tallest (169Â ft, 51.4m) and largest (42 cubic meters) Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda) alive today.
The Harry Hampton Visitor Center features exhibits about the natural history of the park, and the efforts to protect the swamp. There is also an orientation film.
In 2008, South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) produced a documentary on the history of the Congaree National Park titled Roots in the River: The Story of Congaree National Park. The documentary featured interviews with people involved in the movement that eventually led to the area's U.S. National Monument status, and observed the role the park plays in the surrounding community of the Lower Richland County area of South Carolina. The program first aired on the SCETV network in September 2009.
- The National Parks: Index 2001â"2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.
- Official site: Congaree National Park
- Friends of Congaree Swamp
- Wilderness.net page on the park
- Panoramic photo of the exhibits in the Harry Hampton Visitor Center
- Article about the Congaree Swamp and efforts to protect it
- Congaree National Park Hiking