Congaree Biosphere Region

Canoes floating down tree-lined Cedar Creek in Congaree Biosphere Reserve.
Congaree National Park is proud to be part of a voluntary, collaborative partnership framework called the Congaree Biosphere Region (CBR). The CBR mission is to “foster a future that celebrates, values, and sustains the rich natural and cultural legacies of the SC Midlands in concert with opportunities to promote healthy, vibrant, and prosperous communities.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the CBR because of the area’s unique combination of natural resources and cultural heritage.

Natural resources in the CBR include the globally significant, old-growth bottomland hardwood forest tracts at Congaree National Park. This forest, which is the largest, contiguous, in-tact expanse of such forest remaining in North America, supports an astonishing diversity of champion-sized trees. While the Congaree and Wateree rivers are fed by immense, multi-state watersheds, the CBR also encompasses the local watersheds that are crucial to sustaining the old-growth forest. These same watersheds and forests also provide ecosystem services, such as clean air and clean water, with benefits far beyond the CBR border.

Long, rich, and complex cultural legacies in the CBR encompass native American traditions, African American culture (including slavery, maroonage, and a powerful Reconstruction story), colonial and Revolutionary war history, outdoor recreation heritage, agricultural and logging heritage, transportation history from railroads to steamships, moonshining, and more. A number of artists, writers, and performers have expressed—and continue to express—these evolving legacies.

Biosphere Regions (also called Biosphere “Reserves” in many areas) including the CBR offer a local, geographic context for diverse organizations and residents to collaborate on sustainable resource use and development. Biosphere Regions/Reserves are strictly voluntary partnership opportunities, and have no authority over local organization’s resources, regulations, activities, or operations.

As part of both the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and US Biosphere Reserve Network the CBR is connected with communities and experts engaged in similar efforts around the world. This allows the CBR both share with and learn from other examples for research, education, sustainable development.
Biosphere Zonation Map
Map of the Congaree Biosphere Reserve, (NPS 2018)

Geography of the Congaree Biosphere Region
Biosphere Regions/Reserves consist of three geographic zones: a Core Protected Area, a Managed Use Area, and an Area of Partnership and Cooperation.

The CBR Core Protected Area includes 15,269 acres of Congaree National Park, all of which are federally designated wilderness. This area is an important focus area for clean air and water, as well as a sanctuary for the diverse plants and animals who live there. It is also a recreational space in which visitors can fish, camp, hike, and paddle. The core protected area is also important for scientific research and monitoring as a “barometer,” to gauge the health and function of the other CBR zones.

The CBR Managed Use Area contains 5,557 acres of wilderness and 5,713 acres of non-wilderness at Congaree National Park. The Managed Use Area is where Congaree National Park’s trails, visitor center, and facilities are located. This area provides important natural ecosystem services as well as opportunities for public engagement, educational programs, and recreation.

The CBR Area of Partnership and Cooperation encompasses large portions of Calhoun, Kershaw, Richland, and Sumter counties. This area is a hub for diverse social economic activity including agriculture, forestry, industry, military installations, outdoor recreation and tourism, heritage tourism, local business, and private property uses. Opportunities abound here for organizations and residents to work together to sustainably develop and use resources while celebrating local cultural heritage and identity.

The CBR designation was made in 1983, but under-developed and under-utilized for many years until a required 2016 Periodic Review process. This breathed new life and momentum into the partnership framework. A working group of CBR partners has been meeting since 2016, but have not formed a formal organization because an agreement between too many partners proved too complicated. As of April, 2021, however, a new agreement signed by the Southeast Rural Community Outreach, the Central Midlands Council of Governments, and Congaree National Park will convene the first official CBR Advisory Council. Through the agreement these partners will expand the council to engage other working group members as well as new partners.Key goals for the Advisory Council’s work include the following:
  • Conserve CBR cultural heritage, including community sites, stories, institutions, and traditions
  • Conserve CBR natural resources, including environmental (e.g., water, air, and soil) quality, biodiversity, natural forest cover, and ecosystem services
  • Promote scientific research, scholarship, monitoring, and education that can inform and inspire decisions regarding conservation and sustainability
  • Remain accountable to local voices and stakeholders in guiding CBR initiatives and development
  • Remain positive, proactive, and vigilant to forces and trends that challenge the long-term integrity of the CBR’s natural resources and cultural heritage
  • Support long-term, sustainable community planning, infrastructure engineering, collaboration, and economic development to simultaneously promote ecotourism, heritage tourism, small business, agriculture, silviculture, local industry, and commerce

Last updated: June 11, 2021

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