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New “Roots in the River” Documentary Chronicles Congaree National Park History


Some filming/interviewing for Roots in the River took place at a "founders reunion" that was held at Congaree National Park last April. Film producer Betsy Newman, wearing a blue shirt, is at the far right in the front row. Bob Janiskee photo.

A new documentary “Roots in the River: The Story of Congaree National Park” will air on South Carolina ETV in association with Ken Burns’ nationally televised six-part documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Roots in the River will be shown on South Carolina ETV at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 27, the day that the first episode of the Burns documentary airs (at 8:00 p.m.). Then it will make its prime time debut at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 1.

Roots in the River (and video/audio excerpts) subsequently will be used by Congaree National Park and in a variety of other contexts. In addition to 11 television stations and 8 radio stations, South Carolina ETV’s statewide network includes a closed-circuit educational communications system serving more than 2,000 schools.

Produced by SCETV's Betsy Newman, Roots in the River is a grant-supported production that entailed long months of work poring through historical documents and film, filming on location, and interviewing dozens of people associated with the Congaree River, the Congaree Swamp, and Congaree National Park.

Roots in the River:

…. chronicles the history of the Palmetto State’s national landmark. From the initial attempts to harvest the forest’s massive virgin cypresses in the 1890s through the grass-roots struggles of the 1970s to preserve it; to its classification as a National Park in 2003, the hour-long program is a sweeping look at the breathtaking ecosystem of champion trees, primeval landscapes and diverse plant and animal life in Lower Richland County. The show also features scenes from a recent reunion of the young [sic] team of activists from the 1970s that banded together to save the Congaree Swamp. Through interviews with park preservationists, residents of Lower Richland County, park staff, local environmentalists, and archival as well as present-day footage, the program also examines the powerful story of race and social equity in the historic predominantly African-American community.

SCETV, in cooperation with the National Park Service and South East Rural Community Outreach (SERCO), has arranged preview screenings of clips from Roots in the River and the Burns documentary for the general public at eight different venues throughout South Carolina. Each 20-minute screening will be followed by a half-hour panel/Q&A session with representatives from the community, Congaree National Park, and local environmentalists. Food and light refreshments will be served. Admission is free.

The first preview screening of Roots in the River is scheduled for 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 20 in the Visitor Center auditorium at Congaree National Park. Seating is limited, so get there early if you want to see the first showing. A panel discussion will follow the screening, and a ranger-guided twilight Owl Prowl has also been scheduled.

Other preview screenings have been scheduled at:

Kings Mountain National Military Park (Sep. 22)
• Hopkins Middle School [in Hopkins] (Sep. 23)
Ninety Six National Historic Site (Sep. 26)
• Temple of Faith Bibleway Church [in Gadsden] (Sep. 26)
• The Fort Moultrie unit of Fort Sumter National Monument (Sep. 26)
• St. Mark Baptist Church [in Gadsden] (Sep. 27)
Cowpens National Battlefield (Sep. 27).

For additional details about the preview screenings, including addresses and showing times, visit this site, click on the image in the center of the screen, and scroll to the bottom.

A DVD of Roots in the River is available for purchase online at this site or by calling 1-800-553-7752.

Postscript: Scheduling three preview screenings in Gadsden and Hopkins makes good sense. Both of these predominantly black communities in lower Richland County are located near Congaree National Park and figured prominently in the history of Congaree Swamp and the park. A number of local residents were interviewed for the documentary, and interest in the documentary runs very high.

Traveler Trivia: Like many other “founding fathers” (and founding mothers) of Congaree National Park, I was interviewed/filmed for the Roots in the River production. I haven’t seen the film clips yet. It’ll be interesting to see whether any of my blather survived the editing process.


I had a chance to preview the documentary - don't miss it! Betsy and her team have woven together quite a unique story...after viewing you'll want to hit the road to the CNP!

I bought the DVD and it a keeper!!
A beautiful documentary of how a small group of people can preserve
and protect the Congaree swamp for all of us. What a miracle!!

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