WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today approved $1.32 million in funding an expansion of Congaree National Park in Richland County, South Carolina – the only national park in the state. The vote will protect the land from potential development, help clean supplies of local drinking water and create additional recreational opportunities along the Congaree River. The money will be used to purchase additional acres for the park. Park supporters hope to obtain another $1.3 million to complete the project next year.
“It’s a huge deal for the park,” said Congaree National Park Superintendent Tracy Swartout of the money so far received. “Once we get the rest of the funding, we will have a fairly uninterrupted stretch of the Congaree River and 30 miles of land the public and wildlife can utilize.”
The expansion will give hikers and nature lovers a much shorter walk to the Congaree River. Once all the acreage is acquired, people will have more opportunities to use the river for activities ranging from canoeing to fishing. The addition will also create protection for trees including dwarf cypress, large swamp cottonwoods and rare water hickories. A little over a million dollars is still needed to completely connect the eastern and western portions of the park.
The measure, approved as part of the 2010 appropriations bill that funds the Department of Interior, made it to passage in large part due to the efforts of Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-SC) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D – 6th), who are pushing for the full funding needed to acquire the acreage.
“Senator Graham and Representative Clyburn made expanding this national park a priority for the people of South Carolina,” said Frank Peterman, director of public and political awareness of the eastern forest program for The Wilderness Society who has worked for several years to obtain funding for the expansion. “Everyone who likes to enjoy the outdoors and who appreciates the value of cleaning drinking water can celebrate this victory.”
Sen. Graham and Rep. Clyburn worked on the project with a variety of organizations including The Wilderness Society, The Trust for Public Land, and Friends of Congaree Swamp, and the officials were also moved by handwritten letters from constituents not yet even old enough to vote for them. Students from Kelly Mill Middle School worked with science teacher Juli Jones to bend the legislators’ ears.
“Once the students go down there, they just fall in love with it,” Jones said. “We talk about how the green areas are disappearing, and the kids want to get involved in local government. They have written letters over the last four years to Congress to ask for funding for the park.”
Jones has been teaching at the middle school since it opened five years ago. Since Congaree is only a 30-minute drive from the school, she says it’s imperative to take her students to the park as often as possible. In class, she teaches about floodplains and watershed.
Along with exciting the kids about nature and government involvement, the park gives physical benefits of breathing fresh air and exercising. Jones said the students typically come from homes without access to nature beyond their front and back yards and neighborhoods. Time constraints on parents working hard schedules do not allow for enough visits to areas such as Congaree.
The Trust for Public Land will handle the real estate transactions to acquire the land and convey it to Congaree National Park.
“Of all the projects I’ve worked on in conservation, I’ve never been engaged in one that has caught the support of local school kids like this project,” said Chris Deming, a senior project manager for Trust for Public Land.
Congaree National Park Fast Facts
- The park has over 20 miles of backwoods hiking trails.
- Every Saturday and Sunday, rangers provide free guided canoe programs along Cedar Creek.
- Songbirds, owls, woodpeckers, White-tailed deer, otters and raccoons are just a few examples of wildlife in the park.
- The park has the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.
- It became the only national park in South Carolina in 2003 – the 57th national park in America.
- Many different guided walks, talks and presentations are offered throughout the year. All are free of charge. More information.