Congaree National Park is the most expansive remainder of old-growth floodplain forest on the entire continent. It is home to record sized trees and a vibrant floodplain ecosystem, and provides an accommodating habitat for a range of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals. Waters from the neighboring Wateree and Congaree rivers occasionally rush through Congaree Park’s floodplain, supplying essential sediments and nutrients that revitalize the Park’s ecosystem. This periodic natural occurrence helps keep the Park’s landscape lush and flourishing, as can be witnessed by the diversity in its environment. Pines and bald cypress trees scatter the uplands and bottomlands of the floodplain, making the park a well-shaded area that is a joy to explore.
Congaree Indians initially claimed the Southern floodplain, but around the year 1700, the Congarees faced a severe epidemic of smallpox. Introduced by early European settlers, the fatal disease wiped out much of the native population. Subsequently, the new European inhabitants gained land grants from the King of England and began settling the area as their own. In 1776, the state of South Carolina gained the right to distribute land ownership, and settlers continued to try to turn the land into an area suitable farming and grazing. Minor changes in elevation and resulting flooding of the floodplain suppressed agricultural activity. However, the periodic flooding promoted the renewal of soil nutrients and allowed the surrounding trees to thrive. Due to the flourishing woods, bald cypress and other trees covering the floodplain became a desired target for loggers. The Santee River Cypress Lumber Company thus acquired a significant portion of the land by 1905. Yet since the land was difficult to access and because the perpetually damp trees were difficult to float down river, logging operations were halted. Within ten years, the floodplain became an area that was virtually untouched.
Things to do in the park
In 2003, Congaree was designated South Carolina’s first (as well as only) National Park. Today, it is a well-preserved place where both native South Carolinian’s and tourists come to admire extraordinary biodiversity. There are a variety of kid and adult-friendly activities for park visitors to enjoy. Some of these include: