I knew as I left Tuskegee that I was within striking distance of my home in NC. Though I was ‘smelling the barn,’ I wasn’t ready for the trip to end just yet. Plus, there was one more park to visit along the way, Congaree National Park, and it just happens to be the only one in South Carolina.
Congaree National Park is one of 28 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Biosphere Preserves in the U.S. Per the NPS website, “Biosphere regions are special places where people and organizations cooperate to improve human livelihoods and sustain the benefits we receive from nature. Biosphere regions work to enhance the well-being of communities by achieving a harmonious relationship between people and the environment.” Click HERE to watch a 19-minute film about this rare, nearly 27,000-acre old-growth floodplain forest and its role as a biosphere.
The area immediately felt familiar to this Louisiana girl – lots of cypress trees and knees in stands of water and soft, boggy land. It looked like a swamp for sure, but since this floodplain is not covered in water year-round, it doesn’t technically meet the definition of a swamp. Whatever you want to call it, Congaree NP is home to numerous “champion trees,” (i.e., largest of their kind in the state or country), specifically loblolly pine, sweetgum, and pawpaw. Often described as having the consistency of a banana, but with a taste that has hints of mango, vanilla, and citrus, I’ve been wanting to try a pawpaw fruit ever since I first heard about it a few years ago. Unfortunately, I was just a little too late for peak season (late September to early October), so I wasn’t able to try one this year. Maybe I’ll have better luck next season.
The floodplain included within the park boundaries has a long history of human habitation. The first people of Congaree were hunters and gatherers, known as the Confitachequi. These Native Americans spoke Muskogean and lived here thousands of years ago. As with most tribes encountered by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, their population was ravaged by European diseases, after which they broke into smaller tribes, including the Congaree. Later, battles of the American Revolution and the Civil War were fought in the area. Spanning both wars, Maroon Settlements of escaped enslaved people popped up in the Congaree River Basin. The designation of ‘maroon’ likely stems from the Spanish word ‘cimarron,’ which indicates something that is wild, or not tame. “The word was originally applied to livestock that had escaped from farms to run free in the woods. Since…[during the 19th century] imported, enslaved Africans were [considered] a form of personal property” … escaped enslaved people were given this moniker. (Lockley). The unforgiving terrain made pursuit by slave owners difficult, thus escaped enslaved people formed communities in the swampy, root-entangled floodplain. – NPS website
With my walk along the nature boardwalk complete, I contemplated hopping on the bike and making the three-hour ride to my house. It was late afternoon and I was tired, however, so my little voice of safety prevailed and I got a hotel for the night. The next morning, I ate my last road-breakfast and savored the remaining miles of this epic journey.
Next up: a post wrapping up the trip and answering the questions I’ve been asked along the way 😊