Sunday, March 6, 2011

Canoeing and Hiking Congaree National Park

Congaree is in central South Carolina and is our 57th national park and the newest (2003) in the Eastern USA. It was created 27 years ago as the Congaree Swamp National Monument in a grass roots effort by the Sierra Club and local individuals, notably conservationist Harry Hampton for whom the Visitor Center is named. And to continue the story of volunteerism, the large and magnificent visitor center was constructed over a three year period thanks to 75,000 hours of labor by units of the National Guard from across the country during their two week summer training sessions.

The Congaree's 24,000 acres are not technically a swamp but rather a remnant old growth floodplain forest. The park's name and the name of the river that serves as a boundary honor the local Congaree Indians, a tribe that died out long ago, killed off by germs brought by the white settlers. Another local swamp is named after the Wateree Indian tribe. And this entire section of South Carolina was the area ridden by the legendary Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion --called the Swamp Fox by the British -- and for whom the nearby national forest is named.

The Park ranks among the most diverse forest communities in North America with 22 different plant communities as home for over 80 species of trees, 170+ bird species, 60 reptile/amphibian species, and 49 fish species. "Champion Trees" are trees that hold the record for size within their species, and Congaree NP harbors at least 20 of these champions including loblolly pines, hickories, and bald cypress.

Here's a shot from our free ranger-led canoe trip on Cedar Creek...

...and here's a shot from their 2.4 miles boardwalk trail, a self-guided trail with 20+ markers along the way and a pamphlet explaining each marker...

The Congaree NP protects the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the US.

Rather than include more still photos here, I put together a brief video of footage shot on the boardwalk trail (including voiceover summarizing the information on the pamphlet) and also including footage of our 2+ hour canoe trip.

Congaree National Park PDF maps and brochures

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