Congaree National Park Celebrates Addition of 1,840 acres

The Trust for Public Land, National Park Service, and Friends of Congaree Swamp were joined by students from Kelly Mill Middle School, local community members, and other supporters at an event today to celebrate Congaree National Park‘s 35-year history and the park’s acquisition of the strategic Riverstone property.

“The Riverstone property, which connects the eastern and western sections of the park, was Congaree National Park’s highest priority for acquisition. We are pleased to be celebrating this latest addition to the park during our 35th anniversary year,” said Tracy Swartout, Park Superintendent. “With the help of Senator Graham and Congressman Clyburn, the dedicated team at The Trust for Public Land and Friends of Congaree Swamp, and many supportive park stakeholders, we were finally able to make this happen.”

In June 2011, the final 434 acres of the Riverstone property were protected, completing a multi-year effort to conserve the 1,840-acre tract, which was one of the largest properties in the expansion area approved for the park in 2003. The important Riverstone acquisition creates a contiguous corridor of 42,000 acres of protected lands along the Congaree, Wateree, and upper Santee rivers.

The project to expand Congaree National Park has been enthusiastically supported by the science students of Kelly Mill Middle School in Blythewood, South Carolina. Over the past several years, over 600 students wrote letters to U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Congressman James Clyburn describing the importance of protecting the Riverstone tract for the national park.

At the event, several children recounted their letters of support from prior years and noted their appreciation for the great work Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn did to improve the park.

Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn were instrumental in securing federal funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to conserve these historically and ecologically significant lands. LWCF uses revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling leases, rather than taxpayer dollars, to acquire critical new public lands.

Senator Graham was unable to attend the event, but his Midlands Regional Director Yvette Rowland, accepted the student’s gift on his behalf. “The Congaree National Park has had a rich history of providing recreational and educational opportunities to thousands of South Carolina citizens while also preserving thousands of acres for future generations to enjoy. The support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund will complete the Riverstone property and join 42,000 acres of land that will protect wildlife and the forest system indefinitely. This is an outstanding acquisition and money well spent, not only for our generation, but for many generations to come.”

The Congaree National Park is one of our greatest treasures in South Carolina,” Congressman Clyburn said. “I have been proud to support the park since it was a national monument and through several phases of expansion. This latest expansion is especially significant because of the involvement and the support of so many young people.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) worked in partnership with Friends of Congaree Swamp and numerous local and national organizations to protect the property. Friends of Congaree Swamp has long advocated for the acquisition of this important tract in order to protect vital habitat, connect the eastern and western portions of the Park, and enhance public recreation and education.

“Congaree National Park is an outstanding natural resource and a recreational destination for so many in the community and across the state,” said Slade Gleaton, The Trust for Public Land’s Senior Project Manager. “We are thrilled to be here to celebrate the park’s 35 years and the recent addition of 1,840 acres with the many students who helped make this protection effort possible. Were it not for Senator Graham and Representative Clyburn, and the support of the Friends of Congaree Swamp, the National Park Service, and countless organizations and local citizens, the Riverstone tract would have been lost forever.”

“We would like to thank Senator Graham and Congressman Clyburn for continuing the long tradition of bipartisan South Carolina congressional support,” said John Grego, President, Friends of Congaree Swamp. “The Trust for Public Land took a big chance on this property, and we will always be grateful to them for their work. We are thrilled that the land is protected and are looking forward to working with the park on developing public access to its new acquisitions on the eastern end of the park.”

Visitors to this new area of the park will be able to follow the route of the original road to the historic Bates Ferry landing on the banks of the Congaree River. Along the way, visitors will find an impressive baldcypress with a 29-foot circumference, one of the largest trees in the entire park. Nowhere else in the park will visitors find easier hiking access to the Congaree River and to some of the park’s most impressive natural resources.

Congaree National Park is also important to the history of Richland County and central South Carolina. Every year, Congaree National Park cohosts an event called SwampFest! with South East Rural Community Outreach that draws thousands of enthusiasts to the park and Lower Richland County in celebration of the region’s rich cultural heritage. The park also sponsors an innovative interpretive program called the Congaree Campfire Chronicles, where guides lead visitors along the park’s boardwalk while volunteers re-enact the pre-history and history of the park.

Juli Jones, a science teacher at Kelly Mill Middle School and a passionate advocate for the park’s recent expansion, said “For many years, I have taken students to Congaree National Park to study its rare ecosystem and enjoy the cathedral-like sanctuary of its canopy. My students take pride in knowing that their passion for the Congaree has shown through in their letters to the U.S. Congress in support of funding for their park. They have learned that if you act as an active citizen and persevere in a good project, people will listen to your concerns, even if you are only twelve or thirteen years old. We are truly grateful for the dedication of Senator Graham, Congressman Clyburn, the National Park Service, The Trust for Public Land, Friends of Congaree Swamp, and the countless other supporters who worked to expand our park to include the Riverstone Tract.”

Located 20 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, Congaree National Park is the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in North America. It is home to many state and national champion trees, as well as an incredible diversity of wildlife, and many recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, paddling, and camping.

The Congaree River and Wateree River are key attribute of the national park. American Rivers and a coalition of local organizations have designated 50 miles of the Congaree River from Columbia, South Carolina to the Congaree National Park as a Blue Trail and National Recreational Trail.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit land-conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for public enjoyment and use. TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state.