National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Entrance Road and Visitor Center

Description: In July 1998, Congaree National Park (formerly Congaree Swamp National Monument) entered into a partnership through a Memorandum of Understanding with the South Carolina National Guard, The River Alliance (a local nonprofit agency ), and Richland County, South Carolina to construct the park's first publicly-owned entrance road.

Construction of the road was critical to the park. Since authorization of the Monument in 1976, access to the park had been via a privately-owned, one-lane dirt road winding between trailers and private homes. Owners of the road had pressured the park staff to find an alternative route to enter the park and were threatening to deny access to all visitors and staff. The owners complained about the heavy dust, washboarding, and ruts resulting from the significant increase in visitor traffic on the road. They expressed frustration with the National Park Service's lack of progress to construct access to the park on land purchased for an entrance road and visitor center by the NPS in 1989. The park's approved 1988 General Management Plan called for the projects, but funding for the road and facilities had not been allocated. Senators Ernest Hollings and Strom Thurmond contacted the park superintendent about their concerns regarding the impacts on private landowners and park neighbors.

The Senate Appropriations Committee directed the National Park Service to provide a report, by January 1, 1998, on options providing public access to the Congaree Swamp National Monument without using a privately-owned road and the cost options for alternative access. The mandate to provide public access to the park was achieved much sooner than anticipated at a fraction of the estimated cost thanks to the partnership. The Class C estimate for the entrance road was $1.7 million. The 1.5-mile paved entrance road and parking lots were constructed at cost savings of more than 1.5 million dollars due to the partnership. The total NPS investment was $140,000 for the purchase of asphalt for paving and fuel for military heavy equipment.

The River Alliance provided surveying and engineering services. Richland County donated construction materials. Army and Air National Guard civil engineering squadrons from South Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania supplied the heavy equipment and skilled personnel to construct the road. National Guard personnel donated over 7,000 hours of expertise and labor to complete construction of the 1.5-mile paved road and three parking lots. The South Carolina Adjutant General recognized the project as a community service project and a valuable training exercise for Army and Air National Guard units.

With the overwhelming success of the entrance road project, South Carolina's 169th Air National Guard Civil Engineering Squadron offered to build the Monument's first permanent visitor center and administration building. The Monument had operated out of temporary facilities since the park was established in 1976. The temporary information station and office was built in 1983 and marginally met OSHA and ADA standards. In 1988, members of the General Management Plan team described the facility as "operationally submarginal."

The River Alliance contracted with an architectural firm to design the facility. The SC Air National Guard secured National Guard Bureau support and began construction of the 12,300-square foot Visitor Center and Administration building in April 1999. The entrance road project gave the partners an opportunity to tweak particular details of the partnership arrangement. Congaree National Park requested that the National Guard Bureau assign an on-site project manager with a construction background to the project for its duration. Master Sergeant Carland Allen was activated and assigned to the project/park until the project was completed. The National Guard requested that they be responsible for the procurement of all construction materials. They could not afford to have a 50 person squadron ready to begin work without the required construction materials and equipment on-site. An Interagency Agreement was signed by the partners. This arrangement saved the NPS substantial dollars in contracting and procurement services and in materials cost, since the National Guard procurement personnel were able to utilize state contracts.

Air National Guard Civil Engineering Squadrons from South Carolina, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Idaho, North Dakota, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico conducted their annual two week "drills" at Congaree National Park where they donated more than 77,000 hours of skilled labor to construct the visitor center and administration building, a well house, and a fire suppression system pump house. The units accomplished every facet of the project with the exception of drilling the well and installing the fire suppression system. Skilled National Guard craftsmen received excellent training and experience in doing rapid construction. Because of the dedication, pride, and hard work of the National Guard workforce, the project was accomplished for less than $2 million (including exhibits in a 3000-sq. ft. exhibit area), resulting in a cost savings of more than $4 million from the $6 million Class C estimate. The National Guard's expertise and commitment to quality provided Congaree National Park with a desperately-needed facility. The Oklahoma Air National Guard's After Action Report (written to the National Guard Bureau by Captain Frank Horton) summed up the feelings of the men and women that worked on the project. It stated,

Morale was at its highest possible level. On several occasions personnel stated that this type of project and training has been needed for a long time. I highly recommend that this type of deployment continue in the near future and for years to come. As a rule the National Guard, specifically the engineers, never have the opportunity to show the general public what we are capable of accomplishing and why there is a need for this type of expertise in the National Guard. This facility [Visitor Center] belongs to the Department of the Interior and in my opinion the Air National Guard because every person who has touched the facility has taken some ownership in their product. This level of attitude, ability, and professionalism of the Guard will exist any place in the world.

Geographic area covered: Congaree National Park is a 22,200-acre park located 20 miles from Columbia, SC in central South Carolina.

List of partners and relationships: National Park Service (Congaree National Park), National Guard Bureau, South Carolina Military Department, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, The River Alliance, Richland County, and Richland County Legislative Delegation.

Accomplishments to date: Projects are completed. See narrative listed above.

Key success factors:

  1. Shared goal, vision, or dream of desired results.
  2. Willingness to try something different and unwillingness to believe the people who said that it couldn't be done.
  3. Developed strategy for producing the grandest "Win-Win" for all the partners, utilizing best strengths and assets of each partner.
  4. Developed strategy for selling the plan internally (within NPS) and externally.
  5. Communicating and understanding what each partner could and could not offer (understanding partner strengths and weaknesses).
  6. The right people in the right places at the right time. (People who could make it happen and were committed to the project.) Consistency in core group.
  7. Full time National Guard project manager stationed on-site during the entire Visitor Center project.
  8. National Guard responsibility to ensure construction materials were on-site for each stage of construction.
  9. Shared control (without compromising on protection of NPS resources).
  10. Equal commitment to ensuring the success of all partners.
  11. Open, honest communication often.
  12. WE HAD FUN!! We CELEBRATED SUCCESS!! And we maintained a sense of humor. We worked hard, and we played hard after work. Every two weeks we hosted a cookout for the National Guard unit that was rotating out to be replaced by another National Guard unit. The cookouts were attended by all the partner organizations. We planned canoe trips, guided walks, and other activities to ensure that National Guard units had an opportunity to explore and learn about Congaree and/or other nearby NPS sites on their days off.

Frustrations: For all the partners, the agonizingly slow NPS review process. The National Park Service was somewhat frustrated with not having an on-site National Guard project manager with road construction experience. The National Guard assigned an experienced project manager, but he wasn't on-site full time. This was corrected before the visitor center project began. The National Guard was frustrated when construction materials were not always on site when needed for the road construction. This was corrected before the visitor center project began.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. You've got to be willing to share control in order for the project to succeed.
  2. Don't always listen to those people who tell you that it can't be done.
  3. You can accomplish amazing things when you get partners to help.
  4. Figure out up front if you can work together and what things are needed in order to accomplish your goals. After the entrance road project was completed we realized we needed to have an on-site manager with construction experience for the duration of the next project. Also, after the first project the National Guard was responsible for the procurement of all construction materials. This ensured that construction materials were delivered when the National Guard was ready to begin the next phase of the project.
  5. Because the National Guard was involved in the project, the troops came away with a better understanding of why the park is important and what the park is about. As a result, the number of low level F-16 fly-overs of the park's designated wilderness from nearby Air bases decreased significantly after the project. Fewer fly-overs has resulted in increased resource protection and visitor satisfaction.

What would you do differently next time: Not a thing. It was an honor to have been a participant in the partnership. All the partners would love to have an opportunity to do it again.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study):

For more information:

Name: Martha Bogle
Affiliation: Superintendent, Congaree National Park
Phone/Fax: 803-776-4396, ext. 24
Email/website: Martha_Bogle@nps.gov

Name: Lewis Prettyman
Affiliation: Facility Management Specialist, Congaree National Park
Phone/Fax: 803-776-4396, ext. 22
Email/website: Lewis_Prettyman@nps.gov

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvement _X_; Facility Management __; Design _X_; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services _X_; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Martha C. Bogle Date posted: 2/26/04
Phone: 803-776-4396, ext. 24

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