Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nov 28 - Congaree National Park

Besides visiting State Capitol buildings, one of the other "themes" that drive our explorations is visiting National Parks. The National Park Service has hundreds of places they manage (National Monuments, National Seashores, etc.), but there are only 58 places designated National Parks by the NPS. Before today, we've visited 32 of the 58, and today knocked off number 33.

Congaree National Park was so designated in 2003 -- the second newest in the System (Great Sand Dunes in Colorado is newer... in 2004). Sitting along the banks of the Congaree River, this 24,000 acre park preserves the largest contiguous area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. Much of the park is a floodplain of the Congaree River and depends on alternating wet and dry periods to maintain this unique ecosystem. Until the latter half of the 1800s there were over a million acres of wetland hardwood forests in South Carolina alone. But by the 1970s, less than 15,000 acres remained, and popular support to preserve what was left resulted in designating this area a National Monument... until 2003 when NP status assured long-term preservation.

Our stop at the Visitor Center resulted in a fun lively discussion with a couple park rangers and a volunteer, and a set of well-done exhibits provided a nice overview and orientation. We then set off on an almost 3 mile boardwalk trail loop where we experienced the heart of the Park.

More than a dozen tree species dominate various areas of the Park and create a dense canopy 130 to 150 feet above the floor of the forest. The Congaree River overflows it's banks an average of 10 times each year and creates the conditions needed for this unique type of forest. If the floor of the forest isn't flooded, it's very wet -- thus the reason for the boardwalk trails. And besides trees, it's home to countless critters and smaller plants.

While it's a relatively small National Park and the range of recreational opportunities is somewhat limited, it's still a treasure that's needed to preserve this last little chunk of a unique old-growth forest. We enjoyed the visit... as we usually do.

Here are a couple pics from our day.  More photos are available in our online photo albums.