Paddling the Congaree River Blue Trail

The Congaree River is a unique recreational resource with tremendous potential, which is why we should not abuse it. Our river has been designated a “Congaree River Blue Trail” by American Rivers and a “National Recreation Trail” by American Trails.  In addition, the river flows through South Carolina’s only National Park.  These national organizations are drawing attention to the recreational potential on our river.   As a result, Columbia has the opportunity to serve as a national, and perhaps worldwide, tourism destination. But there is trouble in river city.  Water quality in the upper half of the Congaree is out of compliance for recreational use.  More on that later.

Ten different governmental and nonprofit conservation organizations worked to establish the Congaree River Blue Trail. A trail map is available from American Rivers, the Congaree Riverkeeper, or can be picked up at Congaree National Park. It is printed on plastic paper, so can easily be used for many trips. I can vouch for the fact that it will remain unaffected through rain events. Last year, 5,000 of these maps were distributed to people interested in floating the trail; a testament to its popularity. If you are interested, pick up a map and read on.

The Blue Trail is 51-miles long with no public access points for 48 of those miles. You can finish this trail in two days, but I suggest at least three. That way you'll have time to do more than just paddle. And more days allow more time to fish, swim and hike in Congaree National Park. The authors knew what they were doing when they made this map. It has lat & long points for those who depend on a GPS. It also has an aerial photo background for those of us who like to use landmarks to navigate. Roads, power lines, fields, forest and sand-bars are all apparent. This is important because sand bars are a pleasant and legal place to camp. However, for the sand bars to be available, you must go when the water level is low. The gauge in Congaree National Park can be found by going to USGS.gov, then South Carolina, then real time water data. When the level at that gauge goes over 4 feet, the sand bars are mostly underwater. Then the only legal place to camp is the National Park, and that's 23-miles below Columbia. That's a pretty aggressive first day paddle. When the water level is at 15 feet, the Park is beginning to flood and there are no legal places to camp. According to Park regulations, camp fires are not allowed because the area is designated “wilderness”.  So if you are far enough downstream to be in the Park, you may want to camp on the Calhoun County (south) side of the river.  The Park is on the north side of the river.  A camping permit is required to camp in the Park.  If you are unsure about making this trip, talk to one of the outfitters in Columbia.

Currently, eight different water quality monitoring stations on the Congaree River are out of compliance for fecal coliform.  That’s poop!  There are days/periods when the upper half of our Blue Way is not clean enough for swimming or wading.  How are we are going to invite people from across the country to enjoy our river, if we don’t keep it clean?  Your Congaree Riverkeeper is working for swimmable and fishable water throughout the midlands.  But we need your help.  We survive on membership donations.  Please go to our web page and join:  http://www.congareeriverkeeper.org/     There is power in numbers and we need a large local membership to make a difference here in the midlands. 

A long-term goal of the Congaree Riverkeeper is to initiate tertiary treatment at our sewage treatment plants. A short-term goal, which we have already been instrumental in implementing, is repairing the Columbia wastewater collection system so spills are eliminated.  In the future, we will be developing more information on our river basin and placing it on our web site for you to review.  To learn more, keep an eye on our web site.  I hope you have a chance to experience the Congaree River Blue Way and that your experience is as enjoyable as mine. 

Check out our facebook page for pictures.