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Congaree Swamp - A Last Stand for Swamp Forests

Congaree Swamp General Francis Marion, legendary Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War, confided 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. Dishonor came in the 1880's, when our Southern swamps fell wholesale under ax and saw. These great swamps, originally extending from the Chesapeake Bay to east Texas, were decimated in the next few decades. Precious remnants that survived were drowned behind dams. Would any be saved?

Congaree Swamp National Monument, with 22,200 acres, rests on a floodplain of the Congaree River and is not a true swamp. This remnant preserves, in a wilderness state, the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The monument was authorized as a unit of the National Park Service on October 18, 1976. Congaree not only enjoys this status, but also has been designated:

  • Natural National Landmark (1974)
  • International Biosphere Reserve (1983)
  • Wilderness Area (1988)
  • Globally Important Bird Area (2001)
  • National Park (2003)

    The area boasts approximately 90 tree species, with many trees hold the state record for size. The variety of trees equals half the number found in all of Europe. Loblolly pines as tall as 169 feet grow here in a rare association with hardwood swamps.

    The forest's robust health matches its trees' record status and amply supports its wildlife inhabitants. One sign of a healthy forest is the presence of downed logs, a sign of the normal cycle of growth, death, and decay. Standing dead trees are homes and feeding sites for all 8 woodpecker species found in the Southeast, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The Swamp Fox no doubt would be proud that his venerable trees are now themselves honored by protection and are providing refuge to bobcats, barred owls and other wildlife.

    Canoeing, Congaree River, 
Floodplain plants

    Official National Park Service Congaree Swamp Website

    River, Floodplain, and Forest

    The Congaree River is formed in South Carolina's Richland County with the confluence of the Saluda and Broad Rivers. Some 60 miles downstream the Congaree joins with the Wateree River to form the Santee River. With its characteristic flooding currents, the meandering Congaree River can gradually cut off one of its many meanders, or river bends, to form an oxbow such as Weston Lake.

    The Saluda and Broad Rivers drain 8,032 square miles of northwest South Carolina and western North Carolina. The extent of a flooding episode in the Congaree Swamp is determined by the amount of rainfall upstream in these rivers' watersheds. Flooding occurs on an average of 10 times per year in the park. Recurrent floodwaters deposit rich soils whose nutrients support the diverse mixture of giant trees that makes the Congaree Swamp so significant.

    Within most of the park the elevation of the Congaree floodplain ranges from 100 feet above sea level on the west side to 80 feet on the east. Animals survive these flooding episodes by reaching higher ground or by swimming to the bluffs on either side of the river. A park ranger once saw three pigs riding out floodwaters on a floating log. Deer can swim the river to higher ground. Bobcats and salamanders may climb trees and wait out a flood.

    Exploring Congaree Swamp

    See the park 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. Primitive camping is allowed by free permit. For fishing, a valid South Carolina license is required. Visit the Harry Hampton Visitor Center for wonderful displays about this important National Monument.

    Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except December 25.

    Located 20 miles southeast of Columbia off SC Route 48.

    For futher information:
    Congaree Swamp National Monument
    100 National Park Road
    Hopkins, SC 29061

    Call: (803) 776-4396

    National Park Service Information for Congaree Swamp
    More information
    National Wildlife Preservation System
    Park map

    Information from Park Service Official Guide

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