What today is South Carolina’s only national park was in the 1970s considered an ideal spot to chop down trees that had grown so big they could bring handsome profits to loggers.
But in 1976 grassroots efforts to save the Congaree Swamp from logging ended in success. That fall, Congress established the Congaree Swamp National Monument near Columbia and forever protected the soggy, wildlife-rich landscape. President Gerald Ford signed the bill in October 1976.
Efforts to save the swamp dated to the 1950s and came from a variety of interests. Those included young environmentalists, a State newspaper editor named Harry Hampton, and key members of the state’s legislative delegation. Among those were Sens. Ernest F. Hollings and Strom Thurmond, and U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence. Key to the deal was the Beidler family’s willingness to sell the land.
Congress in late 2003 redesignated the swamp as Congaree National Park, a classification that adds prestige to the protected land.
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Congaree National Park is a 27,000-acre flood plain forest filled with ancient trees, palmettos and crystal clear creeks. Its wetlands have been internationally recognized. The park contains forest so thick that researchers in recent years thought it might be a home to the ivory billed woodpecker, a bird that had long been considered extinct.
The park, about 20 miles southeast of Columbia in Richland County, attracts 100,000 visitors each year.