Tag Archives: Congaree National Park

Pres Obama creates three new national monuments

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Congaree National Park

President Obama created three new national monuments via executive order Friday, setting aside more than 1 million acres of public land in three states.

Berryessa Snow Mountain in northern California, a woodlands landscape some 100 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area that supports a wide of variety of wildlife, and accommodates recreational activity that includes hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and rafting. If you look at this website, you see that the land has its champions.

Waco Mammoth in Texas, some 107 acres about halfway between Dallas and Austin that features the remains of two dozen Columbian Mammoths. The bones are more than 65,000 years old. This site doesn’t seem to have a non-profit behind it, just the city of Waco, Texas.

Basin and Range in Nevada, some 700,000 acres of mountains and valleys about two hours from Las Vegas. It features rock art dating back 4,000 years. Here are the details of this site.

Obama’s issued the orders under the federal Antiquities Act of 1906, a law he has now used to establish or expand 19 national monuments. An administration statement said “Altogether, he has protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters, more than any other President.”

National monuments are the simplest way to protect land because the President can declare them without Congress’ approval. Once the land is under the National Park Service, it can be “promoted” to national park status. This is what happened to Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

Congaree National Park – An accessible wilderness area

20150210SCCONG 021AI’ve been zigzagging the Carolinas the last few days.

I’ve been to the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail meeting, revisited Guildford Courthouse National Military Park and Cowpens National Battlefield and met with a couple of editors. Yesterday, I went back to Congaree National Park outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

Some would call Congaree a swamp, but technically it’s a floodplain forest. When it rains, the Congaree and Wateree Rivers flood. Then the water recedes. The park protects old-growth bottomland hardwood forests. It boasts champion trees,  such as water tupelo and loblolly pines but it’s the bald cypress that are most impressives with their characteristic knees.

In the visitor center film, a visitor says that “you can almost hear the trees grow.” It sounds poetic until I get on the trail. I hear a wonderful chorus of birds, without the overwhelming sounds of crows. Though Carol Gist, the volunteer behind the desk at the visitor center, assures me that she had seen crows in more remote parts in the park, none were squawking overhead today. Crow mobs are the gangs of the bird world.

I walk the boardwalk and continue on Weston Lake Loop Trail. Once I get off the boardwalk, I have the park to myself. I keep trying to get a winning picture of the trees, water and bald cypress knees, but the sun isn’t out. It all looks brown and gray.

I’ve come back to Congaree to get a couple of questions answered.

Did the park have alligators? Yes, but they’re not likely to come up where the visitors walk. I didn’t see any.

How did the park get saved? That’s a longer story.

Like every other piece of ground in the Southeast, people have been here since prehistoric times. First, the Congaree Indians hunted game. De Soto, the Spanish explorer, passed through the area. Europeans settled here, though it was a tough place to farm and keep livestock. African-Americans, who escaped slavery on nearby plantations, created maroon settlements. The impenetrable tangles of roots and trees provided a feeling of safety from slave owners. Later, moonshiners found refuge in those same trees to make illegal booze.

20150210SCCONG 044ALogging wasn’t easy here but trees in this bottomland hardwood forest were valuable. Francis Beidler, whose lumber company owned most of the bottomland forest, only cut down trees for about ten years, ending in 1914. But in the late 1960s, as lumber prices shot up, landowners started logging again.

Harry Hampton, a local journalist and outdoorsman, had been advocating for the protection of the majestic trees and floodplain environment since the 1950s. Finally, the National Park Service bought land from the Beidler family and most of the rest of the owners followed suit. There are still a couple of inholdings, including a hunting club on the far eastern side of the park.

Over 80% of the park is now federally designated wilderness area, which is amazing in a park so close to urban sprawl. That means that the park can’t build roads or structures. Once you park your car, the only way to get around is by foot or boat. The champion bald cypress and loblolly pines are forever protected.

It’s a three-hour trip from Asheville, so it’s more driving than I would do in a day. But if you can camp-very primitive- the park is worth a couple of days.

The NPS Proposed Budget for the National Parks

First (and last) Caldwell Fork crossing
First (and last) Caldwell Fork crossing on the Boogerman Trail

President Obama submitted a four trillion dollar budget that includes three billion dollars for the National Park Service. It includes more than $1 billion to address the National Park System’s $11.3 billion maintenance backlog. The National Park Service operations budget request restores funding to levels prior to the sequester and other cuts

It also funds a public-private partnership – the Centennial Challenge – in connection with the system’s 2016 centennial.

2016 – That’s next year. You would have thought that the extra money might have come a little sooner.

To put the Park Service budget in perspective, the analysts at the National Park Conservation Association said the agency’s budget “represents just one-fifteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget, costing the average family about as much as a cup of coffee each year in income tax dollars.”  In other words, the boost in NPS request is not going to make much difference to the taxpayer but will make a lot of difference to the parks.

President Obama’s budget for the national parks sounds very hopeful. But it’s all about me, as they say. Will the budget fund:

* New bridges on the Boogerman Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? See above.

* Enough staff so that the visitor center at Congaree National Park can be open on Sundays? How can a national park visitor center be closed on Sunday?

Cumberland Island
Cumberland Island

* Rangers to give regular tours on Cumberland Island National Seashore?

* More rangers to interpret Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site? When I visited, the one ranger on duty was being pulled so many directions.

But first, let’s hope that Congress passes the budget.