Forty years ago, a grassroots effort to save a flooplain filled with towering bald cypress, loblolly pines and oak trees succeeded, and the Congaree National Park was born. It later became the United States’ 57th national park.
Today, Congaree celebrates its 40th birthday by inviting the public to several activities at the park.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Scott Teodorski, chief of interpretation at Congaree National Park. “Congaree became a park because a lot of local people saw the need to keep it preserved. They really worked to get the word out and ended up preserving a really cool place.”
At nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park has the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Congaree Indians once hunted and fished until around 1700, when diseases introduced by European explorers wiped out the tribe. Later, African-Americans slaves worked on the land, building dikes and caring for crops and livestock, and also used the thick landscape as a place to find freedom and refuge.
One of those stories, “From Bondage to Freedom,” will be shown at noon Tuesday as part of Congaree’s birthday activities.
“It’s about the communities that lived around the park,” Teodorski said. “Many of those same families still live nearby.”
Other activities for Tuesday had to be modified due to fallen trees from Hurricane Matthew. Many trails in the park are temporarily closed while park employees work to remove those trees, so planned hikes had to be canceled.
But there will be introduction to canoeing from 9 a.m.-noon, and a ceremony at 2 p.m. that includes the unveiling of a painting by Columbia artist Stephen Chesley, a slide show of the park’s history and a birthday cake. There is also an exhibition at the park's visitor center on the history of the Congaree. All activities are free.
Congaree National Park is at 100 National Park Road. www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm