At nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree is easily one of the largest floodplain old growth forests left in the U.S. It is home to numerous “champion trees”, trees of such immense size and age that they may be the largest living trees of their species; we were able to measure and rank some of these trees. The floodplains, resting in the shade of 400 year old Bald Cypress groves, are home to a vibrant ecosystem of birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles and mammals. The floodplain routinely floods, leaving a beautiful maze of trees to canoe or kayak through. All of this land was protected by concerned citizens until 1976 when it finally became a national park. Under the protection of the National Parks Service much of this land has been conserved and managed responsibly for the benefit of biodiversity.
The National Park Rangers are divided into various teams managing different aspects of the park, including water management, botany, and even specialists who focus on feral boar invasion, and the supposedly extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker. The various roles and career niches of the National Parks service, from the interpretive rangers who run guided tours and monitor the wildlife to interpretation to education and emergency services, were discussed in depth . There are many internships and training opportunities in the various areas of the National Parks Service that were discussed, great opportunities for anyone interested in conservation and land and wildlife management positions as well as environmental education.
There are miles of trails and boardwalks for visitors to hike along through the marshy landscape. The park was transformed by the shifting river deposits as it migrated across the park over the past few thousand years. Various geological and ecological studies have been performed on this park because of the pristine nature and great hardwood forests, providing a great opportunity for anyone wishing to study those subjects and was perhaps the reason that the park was preserved by citizens of the area until half a century ago.
Dr. White and Quinc Gonzales measure the width of a massive tree in the swampy terrain to determine if it could be a champion tree
Evidence of the woodpecker population of Congaree National Park. Research has been performed to identify the species of woodpeckers feeding at these trees concerning the beak width of common woodpeckers in the region and the critically endangered Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
The majority of Congaree park is floodplain, home to massive Bald Cypress trees anchored to the marshy soil by their "knees".
Beautiful 5-lined Skinks and anoles crawl along Congaree National Park in the thousands. Beautiful to some, "just a lizard" to others.
During our stay on Seabrook Island, we went on a hike through the maritime forest. The forest is made from old sand dunes giving it an interesting topography and diversity of life. There were different species of trees ranging from conifers to palm trees, and even Spanish Moss and Palmetto’s. Randomly, in the middle of the forest was a tight rope course which we all had to walk across even though it was just a few feet above a dry ditch. It was surprisingly challenging even though it was a pretty simple course. However, everything is more complicated when someone is jumping on the other side to get you to fall off.
Sunil successfully walking across the tight rope course. Courtesy: Dr. Lincoln
Once we had all made it across, we continued our hike and reached the estuary where we walked in the water and enjoyed the beach. The final part of our hike involved walking a short distance back into the forest to find pluff mud. Pluff mud is a very fine grained mixture of organic materials, sands, and silts. Most of us decided to get into the mud and walk around. It seemed to be similar to quick sand by the way you would sink into it when you stepped in and tried to walk. Due to this suction, there were a few mishaps where people fell in or almost lost a shoe.
Sunil, Ken, Lauren, Hannah, Noelle, Heidi, and Mr. Green after playing in the pluff mud. Courtesy: Heidi
After getting covered in the pluff mud, we headed back to the estuary to rinse off, even though the water was pretty chilly. It was then time to head back to camp and start dinner, but we had one more adventure of seeing dolphins playing near the shore.
Visiting the Angel Oak was an impressively humbling experience. The Oak (Quercus Vrginiane) stands a towering 65 feet tall has a circumference of 25.5 feet and shades an area of 17,000 sq. ft. This 400 year old tree has impressive numbers, but it’s not until you stand underneath its canopy and navigate the twisted spiders of its limbs that you feel her weight and resilience. Admitting I had to stop and attempt to draw this angel before me, even at many hundreds of yards away the full extent fell off the paper, and at my vantage point I was also in perfect line to capture my fellow tree hugging friends circling the tree and playing under its branches.
CSE Group members circling Angel Oak
Seeing this long-standing example of life sustaining against the odds has a certain breathtaking presence all of its own, but adding in that this particular region of South Carolina is prone to fire and hurricane commands respect of the oak’s winning within nature.
Lounging at the Vournakis' House
- Lounging at the Vournakis’ House
After a rainy night, we left Huntington State Park to eat lunch with Albion Alum’s John and Karen Vornakis. The lunch took place at Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis’ home that overlooked a beautiful scenic wetland. Talking with both Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis was great because they brought up old stories of Albion and campus life while they were here. Dr. Vornakis also informed us of his Greek life and even got to bond with one of the students on the trip that is also in the same fraternity he was a part of. Aside from hearing about Albion, Mrs. Vornakis informed students about the houses in South Carolina. She explained that the houses near the coast were required to be built with no basements. The layouts of the houses normally have a common level on the first floor, gathering area and kitchen on the second floor, and on the third floor were the bedrooms. Both Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis also assured the students that our degree’s from Albion College will be helpful within the real world. Everyone on the trip was glad to have reassurance that their degree would be valuable after college and thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality.
Lunch at the Vournakis household.
Barbecue is an important part of the culture within South Carolina. Aside from it being tasty food, these places are gathering locations for the community. When talking to locals, they would describe large competitions in which they would gather and determine who cooked the best barbecue. We also found out that there are different types of barbecue within the state, each being dominate in certain areas of South Carolina. We had the opportunity to eat a mustard based barbecue, which is dominant in the Midlands. Many of the students got pulled pork sandwiched and were surprised to see it come out in a yellow color. The mustard based sauce was tangy in comparisons to tomato based barbecue sauces, which most of the students were used to. Also served with the meal were hush puppies, which are cornbread balls that are deep-fried. The taste of these were very salty, some students loved them while others did not enjoy the taste. Overall, barbecue seemed to taste a little different in South Carolina, but the main difference was the excitement surrounding the barbecue culture. When brought up in conversation, people would instantly smile and always have something to say.
Student Ken Gibbons eating a pulled pork sandwich
One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Cleveland Sellers. Dr. Sellers was an important leader in the civil rights movement. Before going to South Carolina we got to learn about the Orangeburg Massacre from history professor, Wes Dick. The Orangeburg Massacre was a new topic to most of the people in the class, which was amazing because 3 students were killed and around 30 injured. The injuries happened during a riot where the students were protesting the segregation of the All-Star Bowling Lane. In the midst of those injuries was Cleveland Sellers. Dr. Sellers was later arrested, and convicted, for starting the riot(eventually pardoned).
Students at the memorial for the victims of the Orangeburg Massacre
During our time with Dr. Sellers he explained what had happened during the Civil Rights Movement and the strategies of organizing people within the movement. One of the things that impressed most us, was how much Dr. Sellers had accomplished in his life. He was influential in the Civil Rights Movement, obtained a PhD, and is now the president of Voorhees University. Also, his demeanor was very calm, but yet exciting. During Sellers talk, he did not seem bitter about the past but really wanted it to be a learning experience for future generations. Sellers also noted there is still problems in the state of South Carolina that need to be addressed. Overall, it was a great experience to listen to a firsthand witness of a historical event and a predominate leader within the Civil Rights Movement.
- Dr. Cleveland Sellers signing a book for Professor Wesley Dick.
After lunch, Dr. and Mrs. Vornakis set us up with a tour of Charleston. Our tour guide knew a lot about the history of Charleston and was very excited to get the chance to share it with us. The town was concentrated with very old buildings, many dating over 200 years old. For being quite old, the buildings looked to be in pretty good condition. The housing types were uniquely named, called Charleston Single House’s. The buildings’ design was tailored to keep it cooler during the day. They were one room wide and had a side piazza (porch), which opened up the house to the side yard. The idea of having fewer walls within the home is that there would be more airflow through the room. Most of the remaining single houses were in a neighborhood with an interesting history. When the town was under siege by the Union most of the wealthy plantation owners left their homes, which eventually became occupied by soldiers and the lower class. The neighborhood is now a very rich area. This shift from wealth to poverty then back to wealth was an interesting history and it was quite amazing that the houses have survived this long.
Students in Charleston
Students at the ACE Basin
During the trip we visited the Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto (ACE) Basin, which is a part of the National Estuary Research Reserve (NERR) Program. This is one of 27 located along the U.S. coastline. The ACE Basin is approximately 350,000 acres with about 140,000 of undeveloped public and private land. The basin contained a variety of habitats ranging from hardwood forest to tidal swamps. The ACE Basin hosts a variety of different functions including research, outreach and education, hunting, and bird watching; this place literally had something for everyone. It was interesting to see all of these different functions at one location that, from the sounds of things, actually worked well together. The ACE basin was a more managed area that used techniques like controlled burning and changing the water level, with rice trunks, to control the water level of the habitat. The land of the ACE Basin was also very interesting because it varied with multiple owners. To protect their private land, the owners could receive a tax deduction if they put an easement on their land that would prohibit future development. At first a lot of the students felt this would lower the housing value by putting these restrictions on them. However, the people at the NERR station explained that because the surrounding area was becoming developed that this area would stand out and possibly increase housing value. The Basin also had the remains of the old south because most of the lands were former plantations. Also, slaves originally dug one of the canals we looked at out. Overall, the area was very interesting because of the cooperation between public and private to obtain the common goal of protecting the environment.
Looking across a portion of the ACE Basin