~ Congaree National Park, South Carolina ~

Before I drove to Congaree National Park, I took a side trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park to buy a t-shirt at the NC-side Visitor Center. Congaree and Great Smoky Mountains share my record for frequency of visits at three each. I suppose that is due to the fact that they lie roughly between my homes in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Mims, Florida.

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Prehistoric foragers hunted the area and fished its waters. The Congaree Indians claimed the floodplain and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto recounted the intrigue of the area in his journals. Around 1700, the Congarees were decimated by a smallpox epidemic introduced with the arrival of European settlers. Attempts to make the land suitable for planting, as well as grazing, continued through 1860. The floodplain's minor changes in elevation and consequent flooding stifled agricultural activity; but the intermittent flooding allowed for soil nutrient renewal and enabled the area's trees to thrive. Bald Cypress, in particular, became a target for logging. By 1905, the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, had acquired much of the land. Poor accessibility by land confined logging to tracts near waterways so that logs could be floated down river. In the perpetual dampness, though, many of the cut trees remained too green to float. Operations were suspended within ten years, leaving the floodplain basically untouched.

In 1969, relatively high timber prices prompted private landowners to consider resuming logging operations. As a result of an effective "grass roots" campaign launched by Sierra Club and many local individuals, Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. That designation was not enough to protect the area from the force of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. The park lost several National Champion trees, but the overall effect was a natural stimulus to growth. Hugo snapped tree tops, thereby allowing sunlight to come through the canopy, promoting new growth beneath. Fallen trees have provided shelter for many species of organisms; standing dead trees became new homes for a variety of plant and animal species, including fungi, insects, reptiles, birds, and bats.

On June 30, 1983 Congaree Swamp National Monument was designated an International Biosphere Reserve. In July of 2001 it was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and on November 10, 2003 it was designated as the nation's 57th National Park.

This was my third visit to Congaree. I love the trees there. My other visits, which were made in 2010 are February Part 1, February Part 2 and a family visit in March.

This visit in September of 2012 had me facing colder temperatures than I like for trudging around in the forest. Add to that the light sprinkle and threat of real rain and the visit was much shorter than I would have liked.

Source information: National Park Service website

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Forested wetlands, oxbow lakes, slow moving creeks and sloughs provide ample habitat for fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, insects and other aquatic life. A variety of forest communities are also represented across the landscape, with dominant tree species ranging from upland pines along the elevated bluffs to bottomland species such as bald cypress and water tupelo within the floodplain.

Waters from the adjacent Congaree and Wateree Rivers periodically sweep through the Park's floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this unique ecosystem.

The Elevated Boardwalk (right) at Congaree National Park is raised roughly 8 feet off the ground, is 3 miles from the Congaree River, and floods over about every 4 to 5 years.

Currently 25 champion trees have been documented in the Park. No area in North America has a larger concentration of champion trees. Congaree National Park is noted for being one of the tallest temperate, hardwood forests in the world. Congaree National Park has the largest Loblolly Pine in the United States. It is as tall as a 16 story building.

Harry Hampton began the initial drive to save the Congaree back in the early 1950's by using his column in "The State", South Carolina's main newspaper, entitled "Woods & Waters."

In North America, only the conifer forests of the Western U.S. coastal region (Redwoods) are substantially taller. East of the Mississippi, just a few patches of white pine and some cove forests in Great Smoky Mountains NP are taller. When compared to all of the world's forests, Congaree is among the tallest.

I would not want to be tent camping in this weather. On the right is one of the few high and dry areas in the park. It had gotten very cold, so this is where I left the boardwalk and headed back to the visitor center on the service road (the light line running on the right center of the right photo). You may also be able to pick out the two maintenance service buildings back there.

The primary significance of Congaree National Park is demonstrated through its unique bottomland hardwood forest communities, the overall height of the forest canopy and associated number of national and state champion trees, as well as the presence of a well-preserved, biologically diverse, and dynamic river floodplain ecosystem.

I Am A Member Of:
The Phenomenal Men Of The Web?
The Phenomenal Men Of The Web

Sign my Guestbook from Bravenet.com Get your Free Guestbook  from Bravenet.com

Back to 2012 Travel
Back to Travel Photography
Back Home