Congaree National Park
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Did you know there is a National Park, just two hours away from Union County?
Union County Extension celebrates an American invention, the National Parks system. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was the first national park, established in 1872. Since then, we have continued to protect special examples of wilderness by adding to the number of national parks. When we think of National Parks near us here in Union County, we usually think of the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Congaree National Park is less than 2 hours south of Union County, right next to Columbia, South Carolina.
Like the Smokies, Congaree includes a stand of legitimate, virgin, old growth forest. In fact, over 11,000 acres of Congaree have never been logged. But instead of the mountains, Congaree is a swamp with gigantic cypress trees with their roots sticking up out of the water, which are called knees. Congaree has 25 Champion trees, including 6 National Champions, including many Loblolly pines that are 150 feet tall. No other place in the country has so many big trees in one spot, not even the Smokies. Congaree grows big trees because the Congaree river regularly floods, adding moisture and nutrients to the National Park. Combine this with a long, warm growing season and 100s of years without disturbance from humans, and you have the perfect recipe for growing huge trees.
The summers in Congaree National Park are really hot, humid, and swarming with mosquitoes, and so people who visit Congaree in the summer are frequently disappointed. However, the spring is an excellent time to visit and explore. They have more than 2 miles of wooden boardwalk trail, plus several more miles of crushed gravel trails, both of which are flat, easy walking. These trails allow you to get up close and personal with some of the largest trees in the United States! So consider a day trip or a weekend camping trip with your friends and family this March and April to see the big trees in Congaree.