ROANOKE COUNTY, VA -
A local effort to restore a one time icon of Appalachian forests is closer to making a comeback. The American chestnut tree once reigned over 200-million acres of eastern woodlands but virtually disappeared being taken out by a lethal fungus known as the chestnut blight.
We went into the woods two years ago to show you how volunteers with local branches of the American Chestnut Foundation worked in Catawba to pollinate trees with one that was blight resistant. They returned to harvest the nuts and planted them in pots last spring. It resulted in 32 germinating and surviving the summer.
Volunteers will plant the trees for the Catawba Chestnut Breeding Orchard at the Catawba Sustainability Center on Sunday afternoon with the hopes of bringing back what was once an economic engine in Appalachia. "There's a strong market for the chestnut," said Certified Master Arborist, Carl Absher. "It's good in cooking, good eaten raw. The wood itself is strong and light. It's really a wood that's in demand and very rare now."
This is not a short term project. Of the 32 seedlings, volunteers hope to get two or three that are strongly resistant and could eventually be planted in the forest.
Absher joked, if he were younger, he would do cartwheels over the success so far. He says it's a long term project, one his grandchildren will see in the long term. "That's a pitiful looking tree right there," he said pointing to the seedling. "but it has the potential to be 100 feet tall and make 8,000 nuts every year."