Marie McAden



Take a Big Tree hike at Congaree National Park

Posted 1/3/2013 12:58:00 PM

They are billed as the largest of their species in the country. But the 25 champion trees in Congaree National Park aren’t easy to find among 26,000 acres of forest.

To help visitors spot the big boys, Congaree National Park near Columbia is offering its popular Big Tree Hike, a free three-hour, off-trail guided tour led by John Cely, one of the park’s founding fathers.

Formerly with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Cely was part of the grassroots movement that convinced Congress in 1976 to preserve the Congaree floodplain, one of the few remaining ecosystems of its kind. He has spent countless hours exploring the Congaree forest and crafting a hand-sketched map of the floodplain, noting the species and size of its many champion trees.

Among the arboreal monsters is a loblolly pine soaring to a record-breaking 167 feet and a bald cypress with a circumference measuring 26-plus feet.

Cely will lead a hike into the wilderness in search of some of the largest old-growth trees in the park. He’ll explain how they are scored to determine if they are champions.

The Big Tree Hike is being offered from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 5, Feb. 16 and March 16. Spots fill up early for this walk-and-talk, so make your reservations asap. To sign up, call the Harry Hampton Visitor Center at (803) 776-4396.

Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and bring snacks and water.