South Carolina’s only national park, Congaree is located on 22,200 acres in the Congaree River floodplain of lower Richland County. Established by Congress as a national monument in 1976 and redesignated a national park in 2003, Congaree protects the last significant stand of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States. The Congaree forest, often referred to as the “Redwoods of the East,” is the tallest in eastern North America and one of the tallest temperate deciduous forests in the world. It is home to numerous trees of record size, including several state and national champions.
Between 1890 and 1905 the Chicago lumberman Francis Beidler purchased 165,000 acres of choice timberland in South Carolina, including a huge, near-virgin tract on the eastern bank of the Congaree River. His Santee River Cypress Lumber Company started a program of selective cutting on the Congaree tract, but Beidler, a devoted conservationist, permitted only limited logging. Around 1910 he ceased operations along the Congaree altogether. When Francis Beidler II demonstrated a renewed interest in logging the tract in the early 1970s, a local group of “wide-eyed, Earth Day–inspired” environmental advocates led by Dreher High School teacher Jim Elder mounted a public campaign to save the Congaree’s primordial ecosystem.
More than two-thirds of the park became a congressionally designated wilderness area in 1988, and in 2001 the park opened a commodious, new visitor center. As put in 1976 by the ecologist Richard H. Pough, an early advocate for publicly protecting the forest, Congaree is “a national park that any state would be proud to have.” See plate 1.
Congaree Swamp: Greatest Unprotected Forest on the Continent. Columbia, S.C., 1975.
Handel, Steven N., et al. Research Bibliography of the Congaree Swamp National Monument Area. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1979.
Michie, James L. An Archeological Survey of Congaree Swamp: Cultural Resources Inventory and Assessment of a Bottomland Environment in Central South Carolina. Columbia: Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1980.