Alright, Where Were You?

Our East Coast Earthquake yesterday was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event, so if you missed it, well, you missed it.  I was sitting in an office overlooking Raystown Lake, the largest lake of any kind in PA, which is held back with an enormous earthen dam and manipulated by a large water-control structure.  So, this particular venue had a number of subplots, none of which played out with any drama due to the quake.  However, it was fun to experience it with a few other people.  We pretty much under-reacted, but you can bet they had the guy who monitors the dam structure on the radio in short order.  I wasn’t entirely sure he even realized there was a quake.  There was no sunami on the lake.  It took about 30 seconds for the phones to start ringing.

Oh,yeah, I was there because that was Jeff Krause’s office.  Jeff is the biologist for the Corps of Engineers Raystown Lake project. Jeff is growing chestnuts on a small patch of the 22,000 acres of uplands that surround the lake.  He and his wife also lead the Raystown Branch of the PA Chapter of TACF and Jeff is a new member of the science cabinet of the TACF Board of Directors.  Jeff and I were discussing the upcoming Raystown Branch restoration event on September 25 and plotting how we are going to restore the American chestnut to the 22,000 acre-Raystown project.  And we will….

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Mass/Rhode Island Chapter Restoration Dinner

The Mass/Rhode Island chapters of the American Chestnut Foundation will hold thier Restoration Dinner at the Oliver Wright Tavern at Old Sturbridge Village on September 10, 2011 starting at 5 p.m. and ending around 9 p.m. 

The evening will include a short presentation, auction items including chestnut items, chestnut foods, and the celebration of the great strides the chapter has made towards the restoration of the American Chestnut in central New England.  This will be a very nice event at a really cool location.

For more info, contact Elizabeth Hammond at danc305@earthlink.net or 978-464-5690, or www.acf.org/events.

Majestic Stand of Chestnuts Living in Shadow of Grand Traverse Bay

My son Luke and me with one of the truly impressive chestnuts in a stand near Omena in northern MI

I’d known Rick Bryan for 13 years and been to his houses in Cincinatti and Northport, MI more than once thanks to our common interest in ruffed grouse, but not until recently did I know that Rick is also into chestnuts – BIG TIME!  Rick has a chestnut orchard on his property near Northport (north of Traverse City on the west side of Grand Traverse Bay), which I had walked past 12 years ago and never gave a second thought.  Rick is a member of TACF and a member of Chestnut Growers, Inc., a Michigan chestnut cooperative formed in 2001.  Rick’s orchard is number 29 on the “Michigan Chestnut Trail”.
Rick introduced me to Howard Kalchik, another landowner near Northport, but also the de facto steward of the most impressive “wild” stand of chestnuts that might currently exist.  The trees are on private property just across the street from Grand Traverse Bay in the tiny town of Omena.  The trees are probably spread across 15 acres, and Howard has been collecting their nuts and monitoring their progress for decades.  Howard loaded us up in his little pick-up, with me in the front and  Rick and my son Luke in the bed. 

The picture attached to this post tells the story.  Large, tall, straight, chestnuts that we all dream about and look forward to.   The trees were for the most part healthy, but the blight was having varying impacts, to oversimplify the situation.   Many of the trees were flagged and otherwise marked somehow, evidence that MSU is also interested in these trees. 

Mr. Kalchik told us a story about collecting 4 bushels of chestnuts in the pitch dark of early morning to beat the squirrels to the punch.  Now that’s dedication!

Mr. Kalchik, who is in failing health, has a gorgeous property on Bass Lake (which is in fact full of bass – he owns almost 1/2 mile of shoreline) that is for sale because he can no longer take care of it.  Chestnut trees grow in the front yard.  Here’s hoping someone will take up the stewardship of his beloved chestnuts.

Northern Michigan Chestnuts Sharpen Vision of Eastern Recovery

Dr. Dennis Fulbright (left) explains the history of the County Line stand in an opening being invaded by chestnut seedlings.

Clare and Luke Banker hang out on a giant, recovering American Chestnut at the County Line stand in northern Michigan

Last week my family and I had the opportunity to visit two naturalized stands of American chestnuts in the northern lower pensinsula of Michigan.  We met Dr. Dennis Fulbright, a plant pathologist at Michigan State University, in Cadillac for the fairly short drive to the Manistee/Benzie County line where the “County Line” stand is located along County Line Road (this all makes sense, right?).  Dr. Fulbright reported that MSU had closed on the purchase of the 5-acres that contain the stand only days before.  Like the West Salem stand in Wisconsin, these trees were initially established by settlers who brought chestnuts from the East.

Dr. Fulbright was accompanied by a visiting professor from Turkey who was a horticulturist and we were also joined by Greg Safronoff, a volunteer who also had an orchard of his own near Traverse City, MI. 

We waded through the bracken ferns that were taller than my 4-year old daughter Clare as Dr. Fulbright explained that he had been monotoring the progress of this stand for nearly 30 years.  He explained that the stand had gone through a very significant decline when the blight finally caught up to it, but now many of the trees had recovered dramatically.  To the untrained eye, it looked very much like a healthy stand of trees now. 

Dr. Fulbright also noted that I was probably overly pessimistic in my reaction to the West Salem stand, which I described farther down on this page after my visit to it in June.  That stand, Dr. Fulbright suggested, was going through the same stage of decline that the County Line stand did, but was just beginning to show signs of recovery.  If that’s true, then that is extremely good news.

What caught my eye, as a wildlife/forestry guy, was how dozens of chestnut seedlings were invading the many scattered openings on the margins of the main stand.  Some were even creeping out into the pine stands nearby.  This is what I would expect to see in any natural forest setting (barring over-abundance of deer, of course) and it was tremendously encouraging, even if northern Michigan is not exactly the Appalachian mountains. 

Now that MSU owns the land, folks interested in chestnuts may visit the County Line stand.  “Chestnut Rustling” has been a problem in that part of Michigan, so if you visit, report any suspicious activity, and enjoy.

Plenty of Interest in Chestnuts at Ag Progress Days

Sue Oram, TACF - PA Chapter Administrator, talks to visitors at the start of Ag Progress Days.

The TACF tent at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days attracted plenty of attention during the 3-day event

Ag Progress Days is a little hard to describe – its part trade show, part fair, part arts festival, and a celebration of all things agriculture-related – presented by the Penn State College of Agriculture just outside of State College.  Every kind of agricultural machinery, including the comically large harvesters used mostly on the great plains, can be found there.  Kids are allowed to try them out (so they can convince their parents to take home the $400,000 toys).  Lots of live animals and various other exhibits can be found, especially forestry-related.

For 3 days, The American Chestnut Foundation had a display tent that was very well visited by the tens of thousands of people who visited the free, 3-day expo. 

It was my first experience at Ag Progress Days as an exhibitor.  I was most impressed with the participation of the TACF volunteers, who turned out in good numbers to not only talk to people in the TACF tent all day long, but also to lead many of the 9 tours of the chestnut orchards that are located on the Ag Progress grounds.  For hour after hour, TACF volunteers explained the chestnut breeding program, how the blight works, where we are in the process of bringing back the chestnut, and how they can get involved.  Almost everyone who entered the tent wanted to first know how they could get a tree, then they wanted to know how they could get involved.  That made it easy for all of us, since the best answer to both was “Become a member”, and we handed them the application. 

The expertise that TACF volunteers have and the depth of understanding was very impressive.  As a relative newcomer to TACF, it was a highly educational week for me, as well.  Sue Oram, the PA State Chapter Administrator, made organizing the whole thing on behalf of the chapter look easy.  Everything went smoothly.  Even if you don’t live in PA, I recommend visiting Ag Progress Days and spending time in the TACF tent sometime.