Final Piece of Riverstone Tract Acquired by Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park has grown by another 434 acres, the last phase of a multi-year addition of 1,840 acres to the park, The Trust for Public Land and the National Park Service announced today.

The acquisition also creates a contiguous corridor of 42,000 acres of protected lands along the Congaree, Wateree, and upper Santee rivers.

“Congaree National Park is a state treasure and we are trilled to have completed the acquisition of the Riverstone tract to enhance access and the visitor’s experience to the park,” said Slade Gleaton, The Trust for Public Land’s Project Manager.

A Fiscal Year 2011 allocation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was approved in May to purchase the remaining 434 acres.  Since the project began in 2007, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., have worked to secure federal funds from the LWCF to conserve the lands. LWCF uses revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling leases, rather than taxpayer dollars, to acquire new lands.

Clyburn said, “The completion of the Riverstone tract purchase is a true testament to what can be accomplished through a collaborative effort.  It was my honor to work with so many partners to ensure that these acres will be forever preserved as part of the Congaree National Park so future generations can continue to enjoy the natural wonders of this remarkable place.”

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 bald cypress with a 28-foot circumference, one of the largest trees in the park. 

“The Riverstone property was Congaree National Park’s highest priority for acquisition and we are pleased to soon be able to open up the entire tract for the public to visit and enjoy,” said Tracy Swartout, National Park Service Superintendent. “With the help of Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn, the dedicated team at The Trust for Public Land, and many supportive park stakeholders, we were able to make this happen.”

TPL worked with Friends of Congaree Swamp and numerous local and national organizations to protect the property.  Friends of Congaree Swamp has long advocated acquiring the land to protect vital habitat, connect the eastern and western portions of the park, and enhance public access to the Congaree River.

“We would like to thank Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn for continuing the long tradition of bipartisan South Carolina congressional support,” said John Grego, President of 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 looking forward to working with the park on developing public access to its new acquisitions on the eastern end of the park.”

TPL handled the real estate transaction to help ensure the property would be available should federal funding be secured.  Federal LWCF funding provided over several fiscal years allowed the purchase of the property.

“We applaud Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn for their commitment to this important land conservation investment for South Carolina,” said Gleaton.  “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.”

Congaree National Park, 20 miles southwest of Columbia, is the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The park was a 22,000-acre national monument until 2003, when Congress changed its status to a national park. As part of the change, the Park Service was authorized to acquire an additional 4,500 acres.  The Riverstone tract was the last large private holding in the expansion area.

The Congaree River is an important attribute of the 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.  The goal is to improve public access, connect people to the river, and increase recreation. It has also been designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of Interior. 

Congaree National Park is also important to the culture and history of Richland County and central South Carolina.  Lower Richland County is one of the first areas in South Carolina where African-American freemen 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 the past two years, Congaree Campfire Chronicles.  Guides lead visitors along the park’s boardwalk while volunteers re-enact the pre-history and history of the park.

The project has also been enthusiastically 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 Congaree Swamp and written letters to Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn about the importance of adding the Riverstone tract for the Park.

Julie Jones, a Kelly Mill Middle School science teacher and an advocate for the park’s 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 Sen. Graham, Rep. 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.”

Last year, one student Domink White dubbed the Congaree “The green heart of South Carolina”.  Others echoed this sentiment.

“The Congaree River is very important and rare to this world, and protecting it is worth more than anybody could ever imagine,” wrote 12-year old Allison Bickham in her latest thank you letter to Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn. 

“I’ve learned we need to respect our environment because it helps us to live,” wrote 12-year old Sauntavia Parker.

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.  Established in 1972, TPL is the nation’s leading organization in creating parks in cities and local funding for land conservation.  TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.