Worst national parks? Get real

Once you’re within South Carolina’s only national park it’s hard to believe the state capital, Columbia, is less than 20 miles away. Walking or paddling within Congaree National Park feels like winding back the hands of ecological time. The park surrounds the largest intact stretch of old growth bottomland hardwoods remaining in the southeastern U.S.

While trolling the park’s paths, the smell of loamy soil and primeval green glow are constant companions. With sunlight passing through a thick canopy of branches this place has the very real feel of a shelter, a haven. While logging operations were buzzing and chewing their way through the area in the 1960s a group of locals protested the harvesting of this biologically diverse patch of river floodplain. They understood the significance of the unique ecosystem with its creeping sloughs and creeks, tree-studded wetlands and oxbow lakes, which still provide critical habitat for countless species.

Congaree is many things but what it’s not–as a recent Yahoo blog post suggests–one of the nation’s “worst” national parks. Four other parks were relegated to that category: the beautiful Badlands, the improbable abundance of Death Valley, the restless rolling prairie of Wind Cave and (perhaps most ridiculous) the unspoiled expanses of Gates of the Arctic.

However tongue-in-cheek, the suggestion that any of these are unimportant wild spaces is a disservice to the entire national park system. Sure we all have favorite parks and maybe even some we don’t care to visit but individual whims don’t make them more or less valuable. (Imagine what the national park system would look like after nearly 150 years if it did.) We also may tire of ‘top 10’ lists yet misrepresenting the essence of these quirky, fascinating places is no more interesting or innovative.

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© Heather Hansen