It has been called an international treasure. It is one of America’s newest national parks. Situated along the meandering Congaree River, in central South Carolina, Congaree National Park was designated as America’s fifty-seventh National Park on November 10, 2003. Being protected here “for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations” is an incomparable example of a near-virgin southern hardwood forest.
According to park rangers, Congaree National Park has, acre for acre, more record-size trees than any other place in North America. No place in eastern North America has a larger contiguous area of 100-foot- to over 160-foot-tall trees. The tall trees of Congaree are taller than old-growth forests in Japan, the Himalayas, and in nearly all the temperate deciduous forests in Europe. They are also close to or taller than the old-growth forests in the southern regions of South America and taller than almost all the temperate deciduous forests in Europe. The park also holds the world record for having the tallest broad-leaf forest canopy in the world, one that towers above old-growth forests in Japan, the Himalayas, and those in the southern regions of South America.
There was a time when this near-natural habitat was the largest existing old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. A bottomland hardwood forest is a type of deciduous hardwood forest found in lowland floodplains along lakes and large rivers. Preserved here is the largest remaining tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, a forest that once stretched from northern Virginia to east Texas. Most of this vast forest has since been clear-cut or drowned behind dams.
The park acquired its name from the Congaree Indians. One translation of “Congaree” means “dragging the bottom of the boat,” a phrase reflecting the difficulty of traveling in the shallow depth of the rivers.
Visitors today can experience Congaree as it was 10,000 years ago when this primordial bottomland hardwood stretched across 24 million acres from northern Virginia to East Texas. Within the park’s forest today are trees that hold the record for size within their species. There are at least 20 such champions here, including bald-cypress, oaks, and a loblolly pine that measures more than 20 feet in circumference and is 166 feet tall.
The National Park is now a designated International Biosphere Reserve. These reserves are tasked with conserving the diversity of plants, animals, and micro-organisms that make up our living biosphere and in maintaining and fostering a healthy natural ecosystem that provides for the material needs of the world’s growing population.
Congaree National Park is located southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, near Interstate 77. The park boasts 20 miles of trails, a canoe trail and primitive campsites. For more information about this and other national parks, go to www.nps.gov.
Photo credits: Randy Karr unless otherwise stated.
©2017 Randy Karr