Innovative Partnerships Lead to Congaree Swamp National Monument
The Congaree National Forest features 22,000 acres of unique river bottomland threaded with creeks and old-growth hardwood trees unlike any other in North America. While nationally and internationally acclaimed as a national treasure, for years the Congaree Swamp National Monument only provided a mile-long dusty washboard access road and an educational center no larger than a hot dog stand.
The River Alliance along with community partners set out to create a facility to properly provide access and enjoyment of this pristine “crown jewel” of the Midlands. Maximizing public access to the Congaree Swamp National Monument for local residents and tourists was a major priority. But in tight times, the federal government continued to underfund the park and deny all renovation requests.
To achieve success, the River Alliance recognized the need to forge an inventive project plan. The first step was obtaining permission for National Guard troops from South Carolina and other states to provide the labor to build the project, starting with the access road, as a training event. Local River Alliance partners donated planning, engineering, as well as some road materials. By incorporating these innovative partnerships, the paved public road through the park’s own property, cost only $120,000 - far below the $1.7 million estimated by the federal government.
The successful and cost-efficient effort persuaded the federal government to allocate the funds for a similar approach to building a visitor and education center. The River Alliance then commissioned Oswald Nagler, as well as John Watkins of Architectural Design Associates to develop the plans. His stunning cedar-sided building with stone tiles and cathedral ceilings fit seamlessly into the natural landscape. Now constructed, the heart of the center includes a replica of a hollow cypress 14 feet in girth that seems to grow through the ceiling. Its interior contains graphics and other exhibits that showcase the unique plant and animal life that visitors find throughout the swamp.
With John Watkins also serving as site coordinator, National Guard troops from several states, working on two-week rotations for two years, completed the 12,000-square-foot center for $2.3 million, less than half the National Park Service’s original estimate.
The National Park Service was so impressed with the success of the entire project that it uses the Congaree Swamp as a model for other communities to follow and awarded it national commendation.
For more information on the Congaree National Park, visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm