- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Historic flooding in October led to a steep decline in attendance at South Carolina’s only national park.

Congaree National Park had about 87,000 visitors in 2015, a 27 percent drop from the year before, according to a report released this week by the National Park Service. Attendance at the park had been fairly steady around 120,000 visitors for the past decade.

The park itself suffered little damage because it floods frequently. But the trails spent weeks covered with water and as soon as they dried out, one heavy rain would bring the water up again, park spokesman Scott Teodorski said.

The turbulent water also made kayak and canoe trips harder.

About 2 feet of rain fell in just over a day near the park, damaging hundreds of homes and washing out dozens of bridges. For months, it was difficult to make it to the park because of the bridge closures and detours, Teodorski said.

The decrease in visitors is a bit ironic because what makes Congaree National Park so special is that it is one of the few remaining hardwood forests in a flood plain, so being occasionally inundated with water is why the park exists, park spokesman Scott Teodorski said.

“That’s what we do,” Teodorski said. “Water is the lifeblood of the park. The forest has adapted to it.”

The National Park Service runs five other sites in South Carolina. All of them saw an increase in attendance last year except for the site of one of the signers of the Constitution: Charles Pinckney’s plantation in Mount Pleasant. Attendance there declined 12 percent, according to the report.

Fort Sumter in Charleston, where the Civil War began, is the most popular site in South Carolina. It had nearly 830,000 visitors in 2015, up more than 1 percent from the year before.

Attendance in 2015 was up 22 percent at Ninety Six, 3 percent at Cowpens in Chesnee and 2 percent at Kings Mountain in Blacksburg.

The most popular parks in the Carolinas were all in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Parkway had 15 million visitors last year, while the Great Smoky Mountain National Park had 10 million visitors and 2.1 million people went to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks.

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