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Congaree National Park Adds New Wilderness

Congaree national parkPhoto courtesy Mark Kinzer

On May 29th, the National Park Service designated 6,690 acres in South Carolina’s Congaree National Park as protected wilderness. This is only the second time since 2009 that any new wilderness has been designated anywhere in the country. The first time was Congress’s protection of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes wilderness in March of this year.

Generally, only Congress has the power to create wilderness areas but in this case, under a special law, the administration was given that authority.  

Credit for this great news about Congaree is given to the work of the National Park Service. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President said that in the face of Congressional inaction, he would act to protect public lands. This action is one more example of the administration acting on that promise.

Located southeast of Columbia, SC, Congaree features the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern U.S. The Congaree River, Wateree River, and some smaller tributaries converge in the park and flow through the floodplain, making the region a depository for nutrients that allows nearly 90 species of trees to flourish abundantly in the region.

The Congaree National Park Wilderness was first established with The Congaree Swamp National Monument Expansion and Wilderness Act of 1988. That legislation protected 15,010 acres as wilderness and set aside an additional 6,840 acres as “potential wilderness” that was to be managed at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.

Now, 6,690 acres of those acres have had their potential realized, redesignated as wilderness by the National Park Service. Thanks to the National Park Service, the Congaree National Park Wilderness now expands to over 21,700 acres.

These new lands will now be managed in accordance with the Wilderness Act, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. According to the Act, wilderness is described as “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act is more relevant than ever today as lands unaltered by human development continue to be threatened by drilling, mining, or logging, obscuring much of America’s natural legacy. Protecting these lands with the wilderness designation keeps them accessible and in the natural state that Americans have come to expect, full of thriving wildlife and plantlife.

It's a win-win for our nation’s wild heritage, and hopefully will send the signal to Congress that acting to extend protection over some of our nation’s most revered places is an issue worth breaking the gridlock for.

--Stephanie Steinbrecher

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