Say the word "swamp," and the first image that probably comes to mind is of a wet, sticky, mosquito-infested mire that few people would want to visit. Such an image certainly might have kept some visitors away from Congaree Swamp National Monument, a 22,000-acre forest in South Carolina.
Yet, after the monument gained national park status in November 2003—and dropped the unappealing "s" word from its name—the number of visitors each month increased significantly.
Technically speaking, Congaree is not a swamp, because it does not contain standing water throughout most of the year. One of the newest national parks is actually a floodplain forest that floods about ten times a year. Spreading northeast from the meandering Congaree River, the land is the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwoods in the United States.
Push back the ghostly Spanish moss that drips from the bald cypresses, and you enter a lush backcountry inhabited by bobcats, deer, and playful river otters. Yellowbellied sapsuckers drill holes into trees one day and return the next to feast on the sap that has filled the holes. The rapid-fire series of knocks you hear is from one of the many woodpeckers found in the park, also hard at work boring holes into trees.
At night in the fall and spring, rangers lead visitors on an "owl prowl," so they can hear the eerie calls of barred owls and see the glowing fungi that grow on...