Big trees are cool, I don’t care where they are or what kind. You know they’d have a story to tell if they could, and some tell it anyway via rings, scars, and people. Big, pure American chestnuts in the East are exceedingly rare and valuable and somewhat of a mystery since they should never get big due to the chestnut blight. These trees are often targeted for use in the TACF breeding program just in case there is something in their DNA that allowed them to resist the blight. Recently, New England Regional Science Coordinator Kendra Gurney showed me what is thought to be the Vermont champion American chestnut a short drive down I-89 from Burlington. This was one impressive tree with a massive crown that clearly dominated. I was astounded to hear that they believe the tree is only 50 years-old! It’s no wonder that chestnuts dominated the eastern forest at one time, few trees can outcompete it for growing space and sunlight.
The first year of planting on the Flight 93 Memorial reforestation project is in the books. What an experience. The National Park Service and the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative did an absolutely outstanding job of organizing the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of trees into a well-oiled machine. There were 160 volunteers the first day. My team included a TACF member from Columbus, OH, students and staff from Penn State – Altoona campus, and a young man from Morgantown, WV. I’d never met any of them – they were great. I also wandered among the groups of planters scattered across the hillside handing out 30 chestnuts to be planted. The second day, TACF CEO Bryan Burhans and I started the day handing out a few dozen more chestnuts, which allowed us to meet and talk with dozens of volunteers. We had the great privilege of working with folks from BMW, who lost a co-worker on Flight 93. They came from New Jersey and South Carolina to plant trees in honor of their colleague. The third day, several TACF volunteers traveled a long ways to help us plant. I led a team from diverse backgrounds who just wanted to give something to this effort. They worked hard in high winds that made it feel like it was zero. I was greatly affected by the whole thing. I recommend it to anyone, and there will be plenty more chances.
After more than a year of planning and preperation, the reforestation of the Flight 93 Memorial grounds will begin April 20 with an army of volunteers and partners planting thousands of trees. The Flight 93 Memorial is completely surrounded by reclaimed minelands, which offers an unusual (for PA) green, grassy landscape in the summer, but a stark, windy landscape the rest of the year. Led by the National Park Service and the Office of Surface Mining – Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), this initial planting will cover 20 acres and is designed to provide some protection from the wind that howls across the treeless landscape. Eventually, 120+ acres will be reforested, with other areas left in grass and shrubs to provide some scenic vistas and habitat diversity.
The partnership that the reforestation represents is impressive and the partners are too numerous to list. Both public and private partners are donating tens of thousands of trees and labor in the form of volunteers. TACF is providing a crew leader, who will help direct volunteer, as well as several planters. TACF will also provide 75 of our 15/16 American chestnut seedlings this year. We will continue to supply seeds or seedlings to this effort as it expands. TACF salutes the Park Service and ARRI for the incredible job of managing the logistics of this project. There will be nearly 180 volunteers involved on the first planting day!
Phase I of the Memorial project was the actual, man-made Memorial dedicated on Sept 11, 2011. We hope that Phase II is an additional blessing to the families of those who died there on September 11, 2001.