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Forested swamp named a park

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February 8, 2004

Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the country's 57th and newest, and this state's first.

The 22,000 acres of protected land along the Congaree River were called Congaree Swamp National Monument until the new designation late last year. The title doesn't come with more resources, but it will bring more visibility and, in turn, more visitors to this area 90 miles southeast of Columbia, in Hopkins.

Unless the park is flooded, as much of it was last year, only 10 percent of the land is swampy. Congaree is known mostly for its huge hardwood trees and towering pines, including some of the tallest trees on the East Coast. The park's flood-plain forest includes one of the highest canopies in the world, according to the National Park Service.

The park has 20 miles of trails, including two miles of elevated boardwalk and a canoe trail. The Harry Hampton Visitors Center, only a few years old, is open year round, and park admission is free.

Call 803-776-4396 or visit www.nps.gov/cosw.

DIANE DANIEL

That's one long ride, mate

Never say never in Australia. That's the lesson for those who snickered for more than a century that a north-south rail line would never get on track there. Now it's all aboard the Ghan for the 1,850-mile, two-day (just shy of 48 hours) transcontinental journey from Adelaide, capital of South Australia, to Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. The distance is the same as Boston to Houston or Atlanta to Phoenix.

The Great Southern Railway's legendary Ghan has carried passengers from Adelaide to the heart of the arid Red Centre at Alice Springs since 1929, yet the dream was a 900-mile northern link to tropical Darwin, a.k.a. the "Gateway to Asia."

With new tracks laid, 93 bridges built, and $1 billion spent, the Ghan rolled from Adelaide on a special Feb. 1 inaugural run to Darwin. Regularly scheduled service starts today. Folks are "keen as mustard" about the train: by mid-January, ticket sales topped $11.5 million. As part of the new run through some of Australia's most rugged land, the Ghan offers off-train excursions at Alice Springs and Katherine Gorge. Freight trains began using the tracks Jan. 15.

The Ozback Explorer hotel train is to debut with extended trips in April during which passengers sleep at night and sightsee by day.

Information and booking: 61-8-8213-4592 (Great Southern Railway); www.gsr.com.au; www.railaustralia.net.au. USA booking: ATS Tours, 800-423-2880. Hotel train: www.ozbackexplorer.com.

JAN SHEPHERD

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