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Congaree National Park

Congaree:  The largest old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States.

I absolutely LOVE national parks.  In fact, one of the things that tops my bucket list is to visit all 58 national parks!  This past week end I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to mark another national park off my list:  Congaree National Park.

Located near Columbia, South Carolina, this floodplain forest lies along the Congaree and Wateree rivers.  The park protects over 26,000 acres of old growth bottomland hardwood forest.  This is a wetland system and the vitality of the area depends upon the flooding and receding of the rivers with seasonal rains. Until the late 1800s huge areas of South Carolina were covered by these floodplain forests, but in the 1880s the lumber industry began to harvest the trees.  In less than 50 years most of these forests had been cut.  The area now protected by this national park was spared cutting because logging was especially difficult in this area.

Congaree National Park is known for its unusual array of giant trees that hold the record for size of their species.  Species include loblolly pines, hickories, and bald cypress.  The combination of loblolly pines with hardwoods is an uncommon forest association in floodplains.
Bald cypress trees grow in abundance at Congaree.  The largest bald cypress in the park is over 27 feet in circumference.  The cypress trees thrive in this area despite their strict growth requirements.  Look for the characteristic wide trunk base and cypress knees.  This gives the tree stability during floods.  The bald cypress is different from most conifers in that they shed their needles each winter.  The "knees" are roots that have grown upward.  Their function is not completely understood, but may help anchor the tree in the soft soil.

Loblolly pine and two daughters
who eagerly share in all of my "mom" adventures.

My favorite is the loblolly pine.  Unlike most pines, the loblolly can thrive in this wet ecosystem.  The tallest in the park is over 170 feet and has a circumference of over 15 feet.

Congaree became a protected area in 1976 when a public campaign was launched to protect it from logging.  It obtained National Park status in 2003.

Hiking through this old growth forest was a snap. The boardwalks and trails are well maintained.  Signs and directional arrows are placed in such as way as to provide excellent information without being overly intrusive. There are many different trails to choose from, ranging in length from 1 to 12 miles.  The photo collages below will give you an idea of some of the highlights of our walk.

I especially loved the activities designed for the kids.  A science teacher living in this area would be remiss not to take advantage of this marvelous field trip opportunity.  The brochures for children are attractive, engaging and provide fun and informational activities.

While perhaps lacking the grandeur of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Parks, I enjoyed visiting Congaree National Park very much! My only regret is that the visitors center was closed on the Sunday that we visited.

Now to find that next national park to mark off my bucket list........

1 comment:

  1. Great photos, especially the fungi! I don't know if you've had time to check out some of Canada's parks in the West Coast but I know you'd LOVE them.