Congress Approves Funding For Congaree National Park

WASHINGTON, D.C., 11/3/2009: The Trust For Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, and Friends of Congaree Swamp today praised U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Congressman James Clyburn for working to secure $1.32 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for Congaree National Park. The funding was included in the FY 2010 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which sets spending priorities for natural resource programs for the next fiscal year.

The funding will be used by the National Park Service (NPS) towards the purchase of the 1,840-acre Riverstone parcel in Richland County. Riverstone is the largest privately owned tract of land remaining in a 30-mile wildlife corridor along the east bank of the Congaree River. Once protected, it will become part of Congaree National Park, South Carolina’s only national park.

“Congaree National Park is one of South Carolina’s true great natural resources,” said Senator Graham. “I am proud to be a part of this federal effort to preserve and protect this habitat for future generations of South Carolinians to enjoy.”

“This has been a long journey, and we are still not at our goal to purchase the entire Riverstone tract, however, I believe we will get there,” Congressman Clyburn said. “This expansion of the Congaree National Park is important for conservation, preservation and recreation, and I am committed to seeing the entire property included within the boundaries of South Carolina’s only national park.”

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 recreational access to the Congaree River.

“We applaud Senator Graham and Congressman Clyburn for their commitment to this important land conservation investment for South Carolina,” said Chris Deming, senior project manager, The Trust for Public Land. “Were it not for their persistence, 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. Now we will work together to complete the final piece of the project.”

TPL handled the real estate transaction to help ensure the property would be available should federal funding be secured. Federal funding provided last year allowed the successful purchase of approximately 998 acres of the Riverstone property. The total purchase price for the property is $5.88 million, based upon a fair market value appraisal. The funds acquired this year, in addition to funds secured last year, leave a balance of $1.37 million to complete the project. Project supporters will be working hard to secure a final appropriation by Congress during the next fiscal cycle.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Representative James Clyburn and Senator Lindsey Graham to secure funding these past few years,” said John Grego, President of Friends of Congaree Swamp. “I am confident that their leadership and commitment will see us through to the acquisition of all 4600 acres in the 2003 boundary expansion.”

Located 20 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, Congaree National Park is the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The park was comprised of about 22,000 acres in 2003 when Congress approved changing its status to a national park from a national monument. As part of the change in designation, Congress authorized the National Park Service to acquire an additional 4,600 acres. The Riverstone tract is the last large inholding in the expansion area.

While largely recognized as a sanctuary for animal and plant life, Congaree National Park is also important to the culture, history, and heritage of Richland County and central South Carolina. Lower Richland County is one of the first areas in South Carolina where African-American free men owned property and built communities. Because of the park’s historical significance, it is a member of the Lower Richland Heritage Corridor. As a celebration of the park’s cultural resources, the park co-hosts SwampFest! every year, an event that draws thousands to the park and Lower Richland. The park also sponsored an innovative interpretive program this past year, Congaree Campfire Chronicles. Guides lead visitors along the park’s boardwalk while volunteers re-enact the pre-history and history of the park.

“The land acquisition funds received for Congaree National Park in this year’s budget will allow the park to acquire additional acreage in the important Riverstone tract.” said Tracy Swartout, Superintendent, Congaree National Park. “This key tract links the western and eastern park lands, and as a whole represents the opportunity for the National Park Service to protect vital habitat for park wildlife and protect lands with a great recreational value for the visiting public. The park is delighted at the great public support for the park, and increased interest in the diverse natural and cultural resources that the park protects.”

Friends of Congaree Swamp works in partnership with the NPS to protect and enhance Congaree National Park. Partners across South Carolina provided critical support for the project including the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, The Congaree Land Trust, Columbia Audubon and Aububon of South Carolina, the Richland County Conservation Commission, the Archeological Society of South Carolina, the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, the South Carolina Nature-Based Tourism Association, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, the Coastal Conservation League, the Sierra Club, American Rivers, and The Wilderness Society. The project has also been vigilantly supported by the science students of the Kelly Mill Middle School in Blythewood, South Carolina. Over the past several years, the students have studied the ecology of the Congaree Swamp and written letters to Congressman Clyburn and Senator Graham about the importance of protecting the Riverstone tract for the Park.

“Working to preserve this precious green area in the Congaree National Park has been a joy to my students, my colleagues, and myself,” said Juli Jones, science teacher, Kelly Mill Middle School. “We have learned that if you persevere in a good project about which you are passionate, people will listen to the concerns of your heart, even if you are only twelve or thirteen years old. We have learned to be active citizens and to use our collective voice to further projects like this which support our environment. We are truly thankful that we were included in the effort for expansion of our park and cherished outdoor classroom which is the Green Heart of South Carolina!”

In 1964, Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to preserve natural areas and wildlife and assure that all Americans have access to quality outdoor recreation. Using a small portion of receipts derived from offshore oil and gas drilling, the LWCF federal program has preserved over 5 million acres of land for conservation and recreation purposes, including areas within the Sumter National Forest, Sumter National Monument, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina. In order to help communities protect their most critical recreational and wildlife areas such as the Congaree, efforts are underway in Congress now to permanently fund the LWCF at its fully authorized annual level of $900 million.

Friends of Congaree Swamp is a non-profit organization that works (1) to increase recognition, public awareness, and appreciation of Congaree National Park, (2) to protect and restore the ecological systems of the park, (3) to enhance educational, interpretive and research opportunities at the park, (4) to support the park through advocacy, volunteer service, and fund-raising. Visit Friends on the web at

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 country.