"Friends of Congaree" Boat Trip to Remote Area of Congaree Swamp

July 15, 2000

Although the day was hot on July 15th, seventeen members of the "Friends of Congaree" had high spirits. They were being treated to a special day. They were journeying to remote areas of the Congaree Swamp not generally open to the public. Also on their agenda was a visit to the State Champion Cypress Tree, located deep in the heart of the Congaree Swamp.

Led by South Carolina State Biologist John Cely, the trip started out at the 601 boat landing where the members boarded 3 boats and headed 6 miles upstream. Despite the dark canopy overhead, the forest floor in this area had a good carpet of sedges (Carex) and other vegetation that manages to get enough sunlight to survive. Pawpaws were the dominant understory small tree. They are the only food source for the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar which were also seen in abundance. Some parts of the forest had stands of native bamboo or cane, a member of the grass family. Although cane is a grass, it has a woody stem. Cane was a favored forage plant for cattle and other livestock that used to range throughout the river swamps for much of the South Carolina's early development. Unfortunately, unpleasant reminders of civilization in the form of debris were noticeable - old soda bottles, various balls, light bulbs, and even a tire or two.

After hiking around this area for a while, the "Friends" again headed upstream a few more miles to see the State Champion Cypress Tree. The virgin Congaree cypress trees probably average 500-700 years old, but the extremely large ones, like the State Champion, are probably close to 1000 years old, making them the oldest living things in Richland County. The Champion measures 26 feet in circumference and is 131 feet tall. The maximum age attained by these patriarchs is not known, but one cypress log from the Santee River system that went through the saw mill had 1600 growth rings!

The weather in the area had been dry, so the participants were able to enjoy hiking on dry land. They studied the flora and fauna of this unique habitat as well as measured the circumference of these magnificent giants. Although most of the "Friends" were from the Columbia area, one participant, Mark Kinzer, traveled the distance from Atlanta, GA for the experience. Everyone had a wonderful time and throughly enjoyed seeing the fantastic trees of Congaree Swamp!

"Friends" B. Alexander and C. Jaworski on a boat

"Friends" Mark Kinzer and B. Alexander on a boat

Bill Riddle enjoys climbing on a cypress tree

SC State Biologist John Cely leads the boat trip

"Friends" examine the magnificent trees

Participant Jeff Kososki climbs on a giant tree

John Cely looks on...

"Friends" John and Jeff Kososki

Several members look at swamp insects

The group measures a giant tree

They measure another huge cypress tree

Back on the trail...

The Madeos with J. Cely (center)

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Last modified: May 11, 2008 by Edward Kujawski (focs@mindspring.com)
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