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Congaree National Park and Nature Preserve
In South Carolina, a refuge for U.S. native plants and animals thrives.
By John Dixon, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Park ranger Fran Rametta
Park ranger Fran Rametta stands at the base of the largest loblolly pine in the old-growth forest of the Congaree National Park on Tuesday, November 18, 2003, near Columbia, South Carolina.
(Photo: Mary Ann Chastain/AP Wide World)
A few miles down the road from Columbia, South Carolina, is the Congaree National Park and Nature Preserve. This preserve is the oldest stand of old growth forest in the Southeastern United States. It was named for the Congaree Indians who once hunted and fished this rich bottomland before they were decimated by small pox brought by European explorers.

The area was designated as a national monument in 1976. On June 30, 1983, Congaree National Monument was designated as an international biosphere reserve. It finally achieved status as a national park in 2003.

Before the area was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, it had nine National champion trees. After the storm, only two were left standing.

The park is still home to the largest loblolly pine and water hickory trees in the nation. It is also home to at least 19 separate species of amphibians, over 150 species of birds, 39 species of fish, 34 mammal species, 32 species of reptiles, 17 species of mollusks and crustaceans, 109 species of insects and spiders, and 91 species of trees and shrubs. One can view the park from the boardwalk, from walking trails or from a canoe floating down the river.

Ask the Ranger

F.T. Rametta has been a ranger for more than 30 years. He spent most of his time as a ranger in the Congaree National Park. He told Scholastic News Online he is in no hurry to retire because he loves the park.

He says that the park was once home to a pair of nesting bald eagles. They have since returned to their original nesting place, which is now safe from poisons like DDT, which once weakened the shells on their eggs.

Scholastic Reporter John Dixon with Ranger F. T. Rametta
Scholastic Reporter John Dixon with Ranger F. T. Rametta in front of the panoramic forest-habitat mural inside the Congaree Forest Visitors' Center.
(Photo: Courtesy John Dixon)
The last red-cockaded woodpecker was last seen in Congaree some five years ago, but several species of woodpeckers remain there, thriving in the wilderness.

Despite the lack of caves, the forest has 11 different types of bats that nest in hollow trees and wage war on swarms of mosquitoes.

Ranger Rametta told me that there is one officially endangered plant species in the park, the bog mint, and one endangered animal species, the fox squirrel. He says we have learned a lot since hunters and farmers wiped out the entire passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet populations in the early 1900s. To illustrate his point, he explained how coyotes and wild turkeys, which were once near extinction, have been reintroduced into the wild. They have extended their range into the park where they thrive.

The entire mission of the Congaree National Park and others like it is to preserve and protect native plants and animals and to preserve the park's rich biodiversity for future generations. The park has many educational and scientific programs, such as Young Rangers, Day Camps, and Field Studies.

It will soon open a new learning center in which local students and scientists can work together to study the wildlife and habitat of the Congaree National Forest.

If you are ever in South Carolina, passing through Columbia on Highway 378 on your way to Myrtle Beach, take a short side trip off Highway 48 and look for the signs directing you to the Congaree National Forest. It'll be worth the trouble, but be sure to bring plenty of insect repellant, because the mosquitoes are brutal.

If you are not planning a trip to South Carolina anytime soon, you can still visit the park on the World Wide Web.