2,395 Acres Protected for Congaree NP (SC)


Charleston, SC, 11/28/05: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national non-profit private land conservation organization with an office in Charleston, SC, today announced it has completed acquisition of the 2,395-acre Bates Fork tract located 30 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina at the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree rivers. The property was purchased from the Francis Beidler family, and its acquisition was made possible by an appropriation from the U.S. Congress through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

TPL immediately conveyed the tract to the National Park Service for addition to Congaree National Park.

The Congaree River is formed at Columbia with the confluence of the Saluda and Broad rivers. More than 50 miles downstream, the Congaree joins with the Wateree River to form the Santee River. The Bates Fork tract is in the fork between the Congaree and Wateree rivers, with significant frontage on both rivers.

“Acquisition of the Bates Fork tract is highly significant because of the tract’s features and its location at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers,” says Slade Gleaton, South Carolina state director of the Trust for Public Land (TPL). “This tract extends Congaree National Park eastward, and is a key in the biological linkage of Congaree National Park and Upper Santee Swamp.”

“This is truly a remarkable piece of property both for its natural beauty and ecological significance,” said Chrisanne Mitchell, TPL project manager who handled the transaction. “Most of the Bates Fork tract is forested floodplain. It also contains a feature known as Sampson Island, a high broad sandy ridge, completely surrounded by floodplain, offering unique recreational and historical interpretation opportunities within Congaree National Park. It is likely Sampson Island was used by Native Americans as a temporary settlement or hunting camp.”

“The Bates Fork tract also includes part of a four-mile-long oxbow lake known as Bates Old River,” Mitchell added. “Bates Old River, the longest oxbow lake along the Congaree and one of the longest oxbows in South Carolina, will provide excellent opportunities for canoeing and wildlife observation.”

The Beidler family owned and managed the Bates Fork tract for more than a century. In 1994, the Trust for Public Land and other conservation organizations saw the importance of protecting this tract and first approached the Beidler family about it. In 2003, with the family’s consent, Congress, under the leadership of Senator Ernest Hollings and Congressman James Clyburn, authorized this tract for future addition to Congaree National Park. For the past three years, TPL worked closely with the Beidler family and the National Park Service to arrange the transaction.

“Bates Fork is a tract that should indeed be a part of the Congaree National Park,” said Francis Beidler III. “My family is very pleased that this property will now be owned by the National Park Service. We also very much appreciate the assistance that we and the Park Service received from the Trust for Public Land. This transaction would never have occurred without their unflagging efforts.”

Martha C. Bogle, former Superintendent of Congaree National Park said, ” The Trust for Public Land did an exceptional job throughout the negotiations. We all will be able to appreciate and enjoy the product of all their exceptional work. This 2400-acre addition to Congaree National Park will provide excellent recreational opportunities for visitors and important habitat for wildlife.”

Steve Clark, Interim Superintendent and spokesperson for the Congaree National Park agreed, “The American people have received a magnificent area rich in both natural and cultural resources. It is exciting to become the stewards of a floodplain forest that now encompasses the confluence of two midlands rivers and the natural and cultural resources that they hold. The potential for research, as well as expanded opportunities for visitor education and recreation, is an exciting venture the National Park Service and Congaree National Park anxiously await.”

Retired South Carolina U. S. Senator Ernest Hollings has been a long time supporter of the Congaree National Park. In 2003, Senator Hollings sponsored legislation to make the then-named Congaree Swamp National Monument South Carolina’s first (and currently only) National Park. The bill also expanded the park boundaries by nearly 4,600 acres including the Beidler tract. In addition, Senator Hollings, as a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, secured the federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund necessary to acquire the Beidler tract.

As the sponsor of the House companion bill, U. S. Congressman James Clyburn also worked to expand the boundaries of the park and secure funding necessary to complete the transaction. “I thank the Trust for Public Land for helping to fulfill the vision for Congaree National Park,” Congressman Clyburn said. “The Bates Fork property is a tremendous addition to this unique American treasure, and one that I hope will attract even more visitors to this eco- and heritage tourism rich area of South Carolina.”

“We were contacted about the Bates Fork tract in early 2002,” recalled Ann Jennings, Executive Director of the Congaree Land Trust, which assists landowners to protect land voluntarily. “We are delighted that the Beidler family is willing to sell this beautiful tract for addition to Congaree National Park. This is another example of the Beidler family’s participation in conserving river corridors in South Carolina.”

“Beidler family goodwill was a key when Congress authorized establishment of Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976, consisting of the family’s 15,138-acre Congaree tract,” explained Richard Watkins, Advocacy Chair for Friends of Congaree Swamp. “Boundary expansion in 1988 included another Beidler parcel. And in 2003, when the National Monument became Congaree National Park, Congress authorized acquisition of the Bates Fork tract. The Beidler family’s history of land ownership and stewardship will forever be part of the history of Congaree National Park.”

About the Congaree National Park: Congaree National Park (approximately 20 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina) is the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, containing many other plant and animal species associated with an alluvial floodplain. It features some of the tallest trees in the East with one of the highest canopies in the world-some of the loblolly pines reaching 160 feet in height.

General Francis Marion, legendary Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War, wrote in his journals, “I look at the venerable trees around me and I know that I must not dishonor them.” History attests that General Marion honored the trees that sheltered his strategic military forays for political freedom. These great swamps, originally extending from the Chesapeake Bay to east Texas, were decimated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Precious remnants remain in the Congaree National Park.

Though not a true swamp, its 22,200 acres, rests on a floodplain of the Congaree River and was authorized as a unit of the National Park Service on October 18, 1976. In 1983 it was designated an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wilderness Area five years later. And in 2003, U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings led the effort to make the Congaree Swamp National Monument the Congaree National Park.

“We’re making major progress in this 30-year effort of ours to preserve the wilderness of South Carolina for future generations,” Senator Hollings said at the time his legislation was introduced. “This new designation will not only recognize the significance of this area but the wonderful job the National Park Service is doing to make this a growing attraction for local, state, national, and international visitors.”

The Congaree National Park can be explored by foot or by canoe. There are 6 trails (offering 18 miles of hiking) with some on an elevated boardwalk (the boardwalk loop trail is 2.4 miles long). There is a marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek. Some camping is allowed by free permit.

About TPL: TPL, founded in 1972, protects land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness.

In 1988, TPL assisted with the effort to expand the boundary of the Congaree Swamp National Monument to include an additional 7,000 acres. In 1990, TPL acquired and conveyed 1,570 acres of land to the National Park Service for inclusion in the park. In 1991, TPL acquired an additional 2,633 acres and conveyed them to the National Monument.

In 1994, the Trust for Public Land joined with other national and local conservation organizations to encourage Congress to expand the eastern boundary of the National Monument along the Congaree River to the Wateree River. Those efforts succeeded in 2003, when Senator Ernest Hollings and Congressman James Clyburn, sponsored legislation that expanded the boundary and designated the Congaree Swamp National Monument as the Congaree National Park, South Carolina’s first National Park.

Across the nation, TPL has saved over 2 million acres of land valued at more than $4 billion. In South Carolina alone, TPL has helped protect more than 6,600 acres. For more information, see www.tpl.org.