Past Meets Present at Old Sturbridge Village

Guests at the TACF Restoration Event at Old Sturbridge Village admire the yooung chestnuts planted there.

At the start of the Mass/RI Restoration Branch Event on September 10, attendees wandered through Old Sturbridge Village and through the woods to the top of a hill where  potentially-blight resistant American chestnut seedlings had been planted on the grounds of the Village.  These trees represent the latest and greatest version of the American chestnut tree, the products of nearly 30 years of blood, sweat and tears poured into a breeding program to create a mostly American chestnuts with the blight resistance of their Asian counterparts.  The history of Old Sturbridge Village has been painstakingly preserved or re-created in every way, except for the American chestnut, which must have dominated here in the prime of the Village’s life.  Soon the chestnut may add the final touch of authenticity to the Village.  Meanwhile, the local TACF restoration branch hosted a wonderful evening program at Oliver Wright’s Tavern with great food, prizes and presentations.  Thanks to the committee for their hard work and for all who came. 

Chestnut enthusiasts leave Oliver Wright's Tavern on a tour of chestnut plantings.

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Local Events Thrive on Local Contacts

Volunteers give a brief lesson on chestnut ecology to a local newspaper reporter at Raystown Lake. Such local contacts can be crucial for a successful restoration event.

It isn’t always the case, but most local charity events succeed or fail on the strength of local ties to the community in which the event is happening.   As TACF Restoration Branches get started with their initial event or two, the challenge is often to find those folks who are willing to attend, sponsor, donate, underwrite and otherwise support a chestnut restoration event in addition to, or instead of, all the other cheritable organizations out there vying for their resources.  Assuming you have a cause worth supporting, it often comes down to who is connected to the local community the most intimitely.  Somewhat counterintuitively, rural events where everyone on the event committee knows everyone else in the county will often attract more participants because of individual relationships.  Its also often true that the committee knows the local media representatives.  That can be a huge bonus.  While urban/suburban areas certainly have more potential, rural areas tend to take off faster for the aforementioned reasons.  With time and persistance, urban/suburban events will be highly successful.  It’s just harder to identify the key people and get folks attention amidst all the options. 

 Fortunately, TACF events are less about making money and more about getting to know folks and telling them about restoring the American chestnut.  Once people realize that, success cannot be far behind.   

Planting a Seed in Young Minds

Clare Banker with turkey feather and a young chestnut at Raystown Lake.

Recently, I took my 4 year-old daughter, Clare, to Raystown Lake with me to meet a newspaper reporter who was coming to interview TACF volunteers about their upcoming Raystown Branch Restoration event.  I had a small part in the whole thing and I was looking for an opportunity for some one-on-one time with my baby.  Her older brother tends to dominate my attention, but now he’s in school.  After the required lunch at McDonalds, we got to Raystown with some time for browsing the visitor center before the reporter showed up.  Clare was offered the chance to pose with a blight-resistant chestnut seedling for the reporters camera, which she readily accepted.  My son would have wanted no part.  Then we drove out to the Raystown orchard, at which time Clare mentioned that she “didn’t know we were going to do boring chestnut stuff” in her most annoying, whiney voice.  Jeff Krause and the volunteers at Raystown like Dick Antis really maintain their orchards well, so I turned Clare loose in the well-groomed rows of trees while we talked to the reporter.  Suddenly, these trees were not so boring anymore.  She counted the number of burrs on each of the smaller trees, she posed for more pictures with trees, and she grabbed a chestnut burr with her hand after I described them as “fuzzy” rather than “prickly”.  She turned quickly in my direction with an accusing look and reprimand.  What fun are kids if you can’t mess with them?  But she learned about chestnuts and was amazed by the bigger trees that hung heavy with hundreds of burrs.  She also found a turkey feather (they can negotiate the deer fence and they really like the clover and bugs in the orchard) and she found a katydid on a chestnut leaf after we followed its sound.  If you build it, they will come and be amazed!

Production of Chestnuts a Major Issue

Chestnuts tended by Blair Carbaugh loaded with burrs in late August.

I mentioned in an earlier post that almost everyone I talk to about chestnuts wants a nut or a tree or lots of nuts and trees.  The trouble is, in any given year, there are only so many nuts or trees to go around.  Its a wonderful thing that folks are interested in becoming part of the restoration story, but it is an issue that concerns us. We hate to turn anyone away who wants to participate.  TACF has over 300 orchards, mostly on single-owner private lands. Of course, the TACF orchard at Meadowview is the Mother of all chestnut orchards.  This is my first fall with TACF, and I am seeing for the first time how productive these trees can be and what is possible through the tremendous work of our volunteers.  Blair Carbaugh gave me a tour of his orchard recently and I was amazed by the mass of chestnuts hanging off the trees.  Some of the limbs were almost on the ground.  Blair has very carefully tended his orchard over the years, and it has been rewarded by productive trees.  At least it seemed that way to me.  Blair is just one of many, but he has been at it a long time and really knows his stuff.  He also makes a mean home-made grape juice, and not the fermented kind!

Getting Wild with Chestnuts

Chandis Klinger with a wild American chestnut he has protected from deer using some brush and added light via tree harvest.

Chandis Klinger is not about to take the road most traveled.  If a chestnut isn’t competing with other trees and deer and everything else for survival, then its just not any fun.  Chandis, in his 70s and retired, is having a fine time introducing chestnut seedlings into his own regenerating forest that he created via timber harvest on his land in central PA.   Chandis is experimenting with the placement of seedlings among dense blackberry, natural seedlings, and brush piles, with fairly impressive results all around.  Deer don’t seem to want to bother to bulldoze into a limby brush pile to grab a chestnut leaf, and apparently there are just too many other plants to choose from to worry about seeking out a  few chestnuts in a sea of regrowing forest.  By putting chestnut seedlings into relatively natural settings and using clever techniques to protect from deer, Chandis is demonstrating for us all, albeit somewhat unscientifically, how we can restore chestnuts to a normally functioning, regenerating forest.  All of the planting sites have, or had, one thing in common – almost full sunlight.  Some of the seedlings have been overtaken by other vegetation, but are still healthy in nearly full shade.  Others have managed to keep up with their neighbors and one, Chandis’ prize, has shot up well beyond anything else growing around it.  This may be a tree worth watching and gathering nuts from ASAP.  As we consider the prospects of restoration to natural landscapes, it’s experiments like Chandis Klinger’s that will give us insights to work with.

A chestnut seedling placed in a regenerating forest has shot up well beyond its counterparts.