Last Thursday, while in Columbia, SC, for the Sport, Entertainment, and Venues Tomorrow conference, I took in the Congaree. Congaree National Park is only 25 minutes south of Columbia and really wanted to experience this place. I had heard of it before but didn't fully realize its significance until I visited.
The Congaree acquired park status only in 2003. It had been a National Monument immediately prior to this date but until 1976 the area was under private ownership. Owned by a single family dating from the civil war until 1915, and then a timber company, the area was always slated for timber production...but most of the Congaree is in a flood plain which prevented (and saved) the forest from being harvested.
Hence, Conagree National Park is home to the largest Deciduous old growth (virgin) forest in the United States. In some areas the canopy stretches to heights of 150 to 160 feet above the ground! These are huge trees - including the water and swamp tupelo. The picture below shows part of the raised boardwalk (approx. 6 to 8 feet high) that travels through the park to protect the bottomland fungi as well as allowing visitors to travel when the Congaree River floods the area several times a year.
I decided to go for a 7 mile run, shoot a few pictures, see the vegetation and enjoy the cool morning outside of Columbia. About 6 miles into the run I encountered a family of "wild boars" (really just feral pigs since European introduction 300 years ago) and they just ran away. At first, I wasn't sure if they would be protective or not; there were several young pigs and I happened to split up the group. I stopped and tried to shoot some pictures of them - but man, can those pigs run fast!!! Alas, I couldn't get them on film...
This is definitely the kind of place that I wouldn't compare to many other National Parks or revisit many times - but it's definitely the kind of place worth seeing and experiencing. Personally, it was the first time I have been in a national park that was once private land during my lifetime and that provides a different perspective...during my run I was imagining what it must have been like for people like John Muir and others who worked tirelessly to protect many places that we now enjoy. Today it's just too easy to assume our protected areas have been as such and will continue to be in perpetuity for generations to come.