Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 22,000 acre (89 km²) national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969. The lush trees growing in this floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the Eastern U.S., forming one of the highest natural canopies remaining in the world. The Congaree River flows through the park. 15,000 acres (60.70 km²) or about 70 percent of the park is designated wilderness area.
In 1969, the Sierra Club launched a grassroots campaign to save this area of old growth forest from private landowners interested in the relatively high timber prices. The result of this campaign was the establishment by Congress of Congaree Swamp National Monument on October 18, 1976. It became an International Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983. Over two-thirds of the park was designated a wilderness area on October 24, 1988, and it became an Important Bird Area on July 26, 2001. Following an increase in its authorized boundary, it became a national park on November 10, 2003.
The park preserves a significant part of the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion.
Amenities and attractions
In addition to being a designated Wilderness Area, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area and a National Natural Landmark, Congaree National Park features primitive campsites and offers hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and bird watching. Bald cypress is a common tree in the park. Large animals possibly seen in the park include bobcats, deer, feral pigs, feral dogs, coyotes, and turkeys. Its waters contain interesting creatures like amphibians, turtles, snakes, alligators, and many types of fish, including bowfin, largemouth bass, panfish, and catfish. Primitive and backcountry camping is available. Some of the hiking trails include the Bluff Trail (0.7 mi), Weston Lake Loop Trail (4.6 mi), Oakridge Trail (7.5 mi), and King Snake Trail (11.1 mi) where hikers may spot deer, raccoon, opossum, and even bobcat tracks. The National Park Service rangers have current trail conditions which can be found in the Harry Hampton Visitor’s Center. Along with hiking trails, the park also has a 20-mile (32 km) marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek.
The Harry Hampton Visitor Center features exhibits about the natural history of the park, and the efforts to protect the swamp.
In 2008, South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) began shooting a documentary on the history of the Congaree National Park titled Roots in the River: The Story of Congaree National Park. The story features interviews with people involved in the movement that eventually led to the area's U.S. National Monument status, and observes the role the park plays in the surrounding community of the Lower Richland County area of South Carolina. The program was scheduled to air on the SCETV network in September 2009.