Once the realm of a long-forgotten tribe wiped out by European settlers, this network of rivers, swamps and wetlands with its bottomland hardwood forests might be the last thing visitors expect to see so close to a bustling state capital. Part of what was once a massive floodplain covering the southeastern U.S., this area serves as a traditional zone between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian Mountains, area residents soon realized the area was unsuitable for agriculture and industry because of its frequent flooding. It was the environmental conservation movement of the 1960s and 1970s that finally saw this land preserved for the betterment of the overall environment and in 2003, it became the first national park in the state of South Carolina. This is Congaree National Park.
Less than 30 miles from Columbia, S.C., Congaree National Park is still a hidden gem among largely urban and suburban surroundings. One of the nation’s youngest national parks, Congaree has long served as a beacon of shelter for those facing oppression. It was here that the Congaree people, for whom the area is named, did their best to survive despite European encroachment. Slaves from South Carolina plantations used the swamplands as a refuge and a way to escape, making their own villages hidden in the forest floor. Even today, numerous threatened and endangered species find a nice, safe habitat within the bounds of the park.
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