Parks, open spaces, wildlife areas and historic sites define communities throughout South Carolina. They improve our quality of life and connect us to our natural and cultural heritage.U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. James Clyburn have been working to protect one such treasure in the heart of South Carolina. As a result of their work, the Congress recently approved a $1.32 million appropriation to expand Congaree National Park in Richland County. Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Graham and Congressman Clyburn, and with the support of a critical federal program - the Land and Water Conservation Fund - the 1,840-acre Riverstone parcel is one step closer to forever becoming part of Congaree National Park.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the federal government's principal means of preserving outdoor recreation resources including parks, trails and wildlife lands. Under this program, revenues from offshore oil and gas royalties are reinvested into land protection and outdoor recreation. Unfortunately, in recent years most of the money designated for this fund has been diverted to other federal programs. After many years of project backlogs and lost opportunities, lawmakers have an important opportunity to finally fulfill the promise of the program. Congress is currently considering legislation that would permanently dedicate money to the fund at its authorized level of $900 million. Permanent and full funding is critical so places like Riverstone are not added to the list of missed opportunities.
The Riverstone property is the keystone of a conservation corridor of federal and state lands along the Congaree, Wateree and upper Santee rivers. Conserving this property will connect 42,000 acres of sensitive floodplain habitats, enhance public recreation opportunities and increase the visibility of South Carolina's only national park.
We are extremely fortunate to have such a treasured place for our children and grandchildren to explore. For the past four years, students of Kelly Mill Middle School have made protecting Congaree National Park their mission. Each year, while visiting the park to learn about the swamp and its plant and wildlife communities, science teacher Juli Jones and her students sat down and wrote heartfelt letters to Sen. Graham and Congressman Clyburn urging them to support the federal funding to protect the Riverstone tract. The students' descriptions of what the park means to them are some of the most authentic words I will ever read about the Congaree. One student dubbed the park "the green heart of South Carolina." I have no doubt that the voices of these budding conservationists and civic leaders made a critical difference in the success of this endeavor.
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Friends of Congaree Swamp works in partnership with the Park Service to protect and enhance Congaree National Park. The conservation of the Riverstone property is something we have been working to accomplish since the park boundary was expanded in 2003. Competing nationwide for limited federal acquisition dollars was a long shot when we began several years ago. Our success today is a reflection of the importance of the resource and the partners who lent their voices to this effort. In particular, Congaree Park Superintendent Tracy Swartout provided tremendous leadership in generating support both within the Park Service and from the surrounding communities.
The Trust for Public Land played a unique role by handling the real estate transaction and thereby ensuring the property would be available should public funding be secured. Federal funding provided last year allowed the successful purchase of approximately 998 acres of the Riverstone property. The total purchase price for the property is $5.88 million, based upon a fair market value appraisal. The funds acquired this year, when added to funds secured last year, leave a balance of $1.37 million to complete the project. Friends of Congaree Swamp and our partners will be working hard to secure a final appropriation by Congress to complete the project during the next fiscal cycle.
We are very grateful for Sen. Graham's and Congressman Clyburn's commitment to the citizens of South Carolina by working to secure this investment in our communities, our families and our children's future. They should be applauded for their efforts in making this project a reality and for their support of the invaluable Land and Water Conservation Fund. Moreover, I would like to thank all the people of South Carolina who value and support Congaree National Park.