Congaree National Park protects land, South Carolina history
The park's bald cypress trees grow "knees," which come from the root of the trees and eventually grow through the ground. The wood from the trees are water resistant and cannot rot, so they can stay for hundreds of years.
Congaree National Park ranger Greg Cunningham said most people still know the park as "The Congaree National Swamp," from the original name in the 80s.
Anita and John Cable decided to visit Congaree National Park on Valentine's Day in order to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. They said they like to visit a couple times each year.
by Micaela Wendell and Taylor Halle
Congaree National Park harbors more than cypress trees and mud. It shelters echoes of South Carolina history.
But many Midlands residents aren’t even aware of the park’s existence, much less its vibrant history, said Congaree National Park Ranger Greg Cunningham.
“I’m surprised — I’ve been here probably a year and a half — how few people know about the place,” he said.
About 30 minutes from Columbia, the Congaree National Park is often called “the Swamp” by people living nearby. Carol Gist, a park volunteer of 10 years, said many families who stayed in the area through the years have fished for food in the park for generations.
A self-guided walking trail tour leads visitors to locations that provide brief glimpses into South Carolina’s rich past.
Near marker 12 lies Weston Lake — a remnant of the Congaree River’s original location from 2,000 years ago. Once the Congaree River curved south to its current direction, the curve in the ancient river became the oxbow lake it is today.
Hundreds of years ago, the Congaree forest area was also a common place for slaves to flee from nearby plantations. The thick woods, soft terrain and confusing layout of the floodplain prevented slave-catching teams from easily tracking and recapturing runaways. Slaves who successfully escaped founded a community at the junction of the Congaree and Wateree rivers several miles from the trail.
Hikers can also spot a rusty, Prohibition-era moonshine still a short distance from the boardwalk. The local geography allowed moonshiners to create their product in secret and avoid getting caught by the authorities.
Even if visitors might not be history fans, anyone can enjoy the beauty and serenity of nature. Anita and John Cable were in the park celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day, and they have been visiting the park since the early 1980s.
“I love the giant trees, the stillness,” Anita Cable said.
The park is home to the former state champion loblolly pine tree, which is almost as tall as the South Carolina Statehouse and stands right along the boardwalk trail.
Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day; the visitor center is open 9 a.m.– 5 p.m. Cunningham advises visitors to come prepared for the wilderness, especially if they are planning to go deeper into the forest.
Hiking, fishing and camping are allowed in the park. As a national park, staff at Congaree are dedicated to preserving the land. Signs marking wilderness boundaries reinforce this idea, saying, “In this area man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”