Go out! An unintended benefit of the pandemic has been the dramatic increase (and appreciation) in visitors from outside America. Go to a national park!
In my experience, we thought our teens rolling their eyes wouldn’t enjoy a trip to a national park in South Dakota. Boy, were we wrong. They marveled at America’s largest sculpture, Mount Rushmore, impressed by the tenacity of the Native American mountainous “Crazy Horse” site, but most of all fascinated by the breathtaking geology of the Badlands.
Recently we ventured into Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine. We hiked on our own and then went on guided kayaking and whale watching tours. Most national parks are great for the active traveler, and you can find easy-to-do activities combined with planned excursions. Plus, if you don’t like camping (or the new candle trend, “glamping”), there are plenty of hotel and motel options near national park sites. Just book early as hot parks like Glacier National Park in Montana have a parking pass limit. Good news too: four-legged friends are welcome at most sites in the park.
Did you know we have seven national park sites in South Carolina? They include several battlefield sites and two forts (Moultrie and Sumter) in Charleston Harbor, but the most important park is Congaree National Park located in Hopkins, south of Columbia.
Congaree National Park has 20,000 acres and most are wetlands. In short, it’s a swamp. Two rivers, Congaree and Wateree, flow through the park to create the wetlands. Like all national parks, Congaree has a complex history. It was the homeland of Native Americans and in the 1890s emancipated slaves began to harvest timber there. There are free guided tours and night sky tours, but also great kayaking and canoeing available. There is also a day in June known as Synchronized Fireflies Day where all the fireflies light up simultaneously. Now that Carolina mosquitoes are having a much-loved break (good riddance!), Fall is the time to venture into Congaree National Park.
So how are national parks funded? A combination of local, state and federal funding supports most parks. Funding for parks is essential to preserving land and the economy. The National Park Service welcomes over 327 million visitors each year! There are over 44 million acres of national parks and 40,000 buildings.
As we all fought for the next elections of 2020, a very important law passed in August 2020 and President Trump enacted the Great American Outdoors Act. It was a multibillion dollar bill to fund the backlog of maintenance problems in all national parks. It also permanently establishes the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
According to the National Park Service 2020 Visitor Spending Effects Report, South Carolina’s parks received 1.1 million visitors who contributed $ 60.4 million to the local economy. (A total of 835 jobs support our state’s seven different sites and over 18,000 volunteer hours.)
Do you know those really cool satellite photos of the Earth? On September 27, 2021, Home Secretary Deb Haaland launched the Landsat 9 satellite, which monitors geological and meteorological models of the Earth in coordination with NASA. (Pro tip: Follow @NASA on twitter.) Great spatial views of the parks are available on the Landsat.
After visiting special places like Congaree and Yellowstone National Parks, you will see a whole new ‘America the Beautiful’.
Amy Ryberg Doyle served for 12 years on Greenville City Council. She is married and has four children. Passionate about the outdoors, she enjoys biking, swimming and running, but not all in that order. She takes daily naps.