The Knights of Vermont

The Northeast Kingdon of Vermont. The historical range of the American chestnut extends into Vermont, but probably not this far north.

For just a moment I stood in stunned silence as my mind tried to get a grip on why the person who I thought was a total stranger looked very familiar.  When my brain unlocked, I realized I’d met Grace Knight before.  One of the best, but most hazardous, parts of my job is that I get to meet a lot of really great people, because everyone seems welcome at any meeting or gathering of The American Chestnut Foundation.  The problem is, I am not good with names, so I never remembered meeting Grace last April, even after e-mailing with her and talking to her on the phone.  Embarrassed, I was.  Not the first time, won’t be the last. 

Fear not, Grace and Randy Knight will put you at ease immediately.  Their hospitality combined with their action-packed farm with a stunning view of the Vermont mountains will make you want to stay, especially after an 8 hour drive with two young children and two dogs.

Grace and Randy introduced my son Luke and daughter Clare to their dog, sheep, chickens, and chestnut orchard, winning them over for good with cookies and lemonade and by letting them hold fluffy chicks.  Luke especially liked feeding Japanese beetles (“Chicken Popcorn” says Randy) to the chickens.  They certainly won’t forget meeting the Knights.

I was particularly curious about their chestnut orchard, which has no deer fence nor tree tubes, a hard concept for me to grasp.  Apparently, the combination of low deer numbers and a vigilant dog who knows a friend from a foe (he ignores the chickens and wild turkeys) allows the trees to escape the “deer blight”.  This is certainly a huge bonus.  The trees looked great. 

The Knights are also Life Sponsors of TACF and Grace is the state chapter President.  Thanks for your dedication and hospitality!


A Giving Tree

The Flight 93 Memorial as of July 15. A future phase of the project will focus on adding trees to the landscape, possibly including chestnuts.

I would never have imagined the places a tree could take a person until I came to work for TACF.  In about 5 months, I’ve been from Georgia to northern Vermont to Minnesota seeing all kinds of great people and the important work they are doing, both on behalf of TACF and because they love it. 

Much of that could be predicted, but I never would have guessed I’d find myself at both ends of the war on terror – where it was ignited and where it comes to an ultimate end for some soldiers. 

On a flawless spring day in late April (Arbor Day), the family of a Navy Commander who died of natural causes planted two chestnuts in his honor at Arlington National Cemetary, where he is buried.  Twelve of his family members attended the event, some traveling from as far as Charleston, SC for the short, simple ceremony.  Also attending were the Executive Director and Superintendent of the Cemetary.  The planting ceremony was led by the cemetary arborist.  Virginia Chapter Chairman Dr. John Scrivani spoke briefly and Don Davis, TACF volunteer and our Washington liaison, also attended. 

We were “inside the chains” to plant our tree, so we became somewhat of a sideshow as hundreds of people passed by from all over the country (judging from the writing on their brightly colored, matching shirts). 

Most stirring was the regular sound of “21 Gun Salutes” in the background as fallen soldiers mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq were honored.  Long lines of cars with somber occupants filed past at intervals, termporarily backing up the human traffic.  It was nice to be part of planting a living thing in such a place, with a twinge of guilt that ours was a happier occassion.

On the other end of the spectrum, TACF is involved in helping to plan the reforestation around the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, PA.  This, of course, was the site where the last of 4 planes crashed on September 11, 2001, killing all on board, but noone else, probably exactly what the passengers had intended, but not the hijackers.  The main part of the Memorial, which is very impressive, is nearly finished and will be dedicated on September 10-11 of this year. 

The plane, quite fortunately, crashed into a reclaimed surface mine site, which is hundreds of acres completely devoid of trees.  A huge reforestation project is among the many phases of the project and the Memorial will be expanded to include a circular, forested walkway, possibly including American chestnuts among the several tree species that will be used (you can see an artists rendition of the entire project and a whole lot more at

The Flight 93 Memorial is certainly a place of many strong emotions, different for every person who visits.  The subtle success story suggested by the chestnut – disaster followed by eventual restoration – certainly offers a quiet, compelling, positive addition to the many stories that are represented by this monument to the 9/11 victims and heroes and their families. 

Stay tuned for updates on this project.


TACF PA Chapter Summer Education and Outreach

From Sue Oram, PA Chapter Administrator.  Please feel free to send any event info to

TACF supporters admire a newly planted chestnut at Blooming Grove Hunting and Fishing Club, Northeast Pennsylvania, June 2011. for posting at this site.

Our chapter volunteers are providing chestnut education and outreach at the following events this summer:

The Ned Smith Nature and Arts Festival, MYO Park, Mifflinburg PA
Saturday, July 30 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

The Tree House Festival at Tyler Arboretum, Media, PA
Saturday, August 6, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

The Festival of Wood, Milford, PA
Saturday, August 6, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 7, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Penn State Ag Progress Days, PA Furnace, PA
Tuesday, August 16-Thursday, August 18.

If you would like more information about the events or would like to volunteer, contact us at 814-863-7192.


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TACF Volunteers Coop with Tyler Arboretum on Chestnut Orchard

The American Chestnut orchard at Tyler Arboretum near Gradyville, Delaware County, PA

TACF volunteers Alan Palmer and John Wenderoth took me to see the orchard at Tyler Arboretum near Gradyville, PA in Delaware County (close to West Chester, PA).  Since this part of PA is well known for its high deer density, the main part of the arboretum was protected by the most impressive deer fence I’ve ever seen.  This was a Jurassic Park deer fence.  A deer will sometimes jump a standard 8-foot deer fence, but no deer ever born was going to get over this one. 

The chestnut orchard was on the unfenced part of the Arboretum, but it had its own high-quality deer fence.  Not the Jurassic Park version, but deer proof without a doubt.

The American chestnut orchard was very well maintained and had trees of all shapes and sizes.  Many were in varying stages of battle with the chestnut blight.  John Wenderoth was an extremely knowledgable tour guide and explained with great enthusiasm what all was happening there.  If you are in that area, I recommend visiting the Tyler Arboretum and the chestnut orchard.  TACF greatly appreciates the work of folks like John and Alan as well as the cooperation of the Arboretum.

A Force of One in Tioga County, PA

Dr. Montague with one of his prized American chestnuts

On July 8th, I drove up to Tioga County, PA, to see Dr. Bill Montague.  Dr. Montague has one of those properties that I see in my dreams.  I couldn’t stop staring at the view, which he tried to convince me was poor that day due to a humid haze in the air.  It looked good to me.

Though nearly 80, its obvious Dr. Montague is as active as ever.  All living things on the property are well cared for and he has attacked the reintroduction of chestnuts on his property on many fronts.  The first thing you encounter is an orchard of pure American chestnuts that are in varying stages of health due to blight, but they are still producing nuts.  As coincidence would have it, I planted some nuts he produced on our hunting camp property, so now we have a connection.

Of most interest to me was the trees, which had been bred for some level of blight resistance, that Dr. Montague has planted on the ridge behind his house.  This was an old field-type habitat that was lush with a couple dozen species of young trees and shrubs, especially raspberry, which I plucked and ate constantly as I followed Dr. Montague from tree to tree.  We investigated every planted chestnut we could find and discovered that almost all were doing well amongst the heavy competition.  Only one, close to the trail, was browsed by deer.  The rest had gone undiscovered in the mass of growth.  Even the trees that were heavily shaded looked very healthy for the most part.  Who knows how they will end up, but so far, so good.

Dr. Montague’s pride and joy was a tree that was planted amidst rapidly growing red maple and birch.  The chestnut was over 10 feet tall and neck-and-neck with the other sun lovers.  This gave me a good idea of how young chestnuts will compete for sunlight and space when growing under normal forest regeneration conditions.

Once we got tired of plowing through the brush, Dr. Montague drove me over to the Tioga State Forest to show me some big, wild American chestnut that they had found and had been collecting nuts from.  The wisdom I gained from my 2 hours with Dr. Montague can’t be found anywhere else.  TACF is grateful for his dedication.

West Salem, Wisconsin – Ghosts of Chestnuts Past and Future?

Dr. Ellingboe inspects the stand at West Salem

I hadn’t been with TACF long before I started hearing and reading about the “West Salem” stand of American chestnuts in western Wisconsin, not far from the Mississippi.  I had the pleasure of visiting the stand in late June with long-time TACF supporters/Board members Dr. Cam Gunderson and Dr. Al Ellingboe.  We met at Dr. Gunderson’s house on the edge of LaCrosse.  Dr. Ellingboe drove 3 hours to be there.  Neither of these guys had ever met me, but they set up this visit to coincide with my swing through eastern Minnesota and western WI, which I greatly appreciated. 

Both of my companions were octogenarians, so I was the beneficiary of more than 160 years of wit and wisdom.  What a treasure trove of information these men shared!

In 20 minutes, we were driving across a field of alfalfa and corn on a beautiful farm to within a hundred yards of the famed West Salem Stand, which had apparently started when a few trees planted by settlers from the east decided to expand on their own to several hundred acres.  The trees had escaped the blight for nearly a century, being that far west. 

Recently, however, the blight made it to western WI. We could see from our parking spot that these trees, some of them enormous by any standard, were dead or dying.  Nonetheless, we all made the hike up the ridge and into the heart of this particular stand. 

It one sense it was frustrating to see these trees in a sorry state, but in another it gave me a good idea of what is possible, and what will be when we get these trees re-established on the eastern landscape.  Chestnuts with enormous trunks dotted the hillside with smaller trees inbetween.  Magnificant specimens that we can look forward to again. Living trees were full of the classic white flowers. I wished I had been there 10 years sooner to see the flowers looking like snow across the entire hillside.  I was told later that there are trees that seem to be recovering from blight among those we looked at, which is encouraging.  We met the landowner on our way off the farm, a wonderful lady. 

Thank you Dr. Cam and Dr. Al for a great day.

The Chestnut Army

Volunteers tour the American Chestnut orchard at the New England Forestry Foundation's headquarters in Littleton, Mass. A sampling of the activities of the "Chestnut Army" in the mid-Atlantic.

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is a close-knit group of professionals and volunteers dedicated to restoring the American chestnut to the eastern United States.  These people come from diverse backgrounds and locations to work passionately on behalf of TACF.  This site is dedicated to telling the story of these people and places.