Two weeks ago, I got my fist tour of The American Chestnut Foundation’s Meadowview Research Farm in southwest Virginia, not far from Abingdon. Even as you walk or ride among the rows and rows of chestnuts, the whole idea of Meadowview seems pretty improbable. The vast majority of the 120 acre farm and its research facilities was purchased by individual donors. Hundreds of thousands of trees and nearly 30 years later, TACF now has trees that are 94% American chestnut and blight-resistant. The hundreds of thousands of trees that have contributed to this effort have been tracked individually. TACF now has 300+ associated chestnut orchards throughout the eastern half of the U.S. that continue the model of breeding created at Meadowview. All major accomplishments that seem almost unbelievable, but one determined step at a time with a dedicated corps of donors, volunteers and professionals is how we got here. They had a plan and they worked it to perfection so far. Here’s to the next 30 years of miraculous achievement.
It’s not that I hadn’t considered it, but it really struck me recently as I stood looking out over the heavily forested mountains of western North Carolina – “How the heck will chestnuts ever gain a foothold in these extensive, mature forests of the Appalachians?”. Few places in the East have so much contiguous mature forest as the southern Appalachians from western VA to northern GA. Various social and political pressures have led to far less management of southern hardwood forests than in the past. The result is a rather homogenous, middle-aged forest. Even if this were not the case, any management done now would not really influence chestnut reintroduction, say, 10 years from now, anyhow. So as we get really serious about reintroducing chestnut to forested settings, forest management that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor to stimulate the natural regeneration of a young forest will go hand-in-hand with chestnut reintroduction. Then, hopefully, nature will take care of the rest.