Legacy and Inheritance on National Land

March 29, 2009 at 11:23 pm 6 comments

The March-April 2009 issue of AT Journeys includes a great article by Wendy K. Probst entitled “A Remarkable Inheritance“. It’s about Dayton Duncan and his work with Ken Burns on the upcoming PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

In 1959, nine year old Dayton Duncan visited his first national park with his parents. When he was grown with a family of his own, he revisited the parks. His children were able to take in identical views and share the same experiences their father had as a boy. Meanwhile, Dayton Duncan found himself awed by the consistency of the parks.

But sometimes, we don’t want national lands to stay the same. Take the case of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philpott Lake in Bassett,Virginia. By the time Congress approved the construction of Philpott Dam in 1944, Virginia’s American Chestnuts had already been ravished by the blight. Patrick County had lost its main cash crop. Gone were the days when wagons were loaded full of nuts and shipped from Bassett. Philpott Dam was completed in 1952 and a new recreation area was born. But it was a recreation area that couldn’t reflect what the forest once was.

On March 18th, Ryan Somma and I joined forest rangers, biologists, Friends of Philpott members, teachers, high school students, and two professional RVers at the Philpott Lake Overlook. We were there to witness the planting of one of the American Chestnut Foundation‘s backcrossed trees, a sapling bred to be blight resistant.

Philpott Lake -  Robert Strasser, Tree, New Marker
Restoration Biologist Robert Strasser tends to the tree

Philpott Lake -  Susan Martin Digs
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Susan Martin digs

Philpott Lake -  Mayes and Strasser Plant Tree 2
VA TACF President Cathy Mayes and Robert Strasser plant the tree

Philpott Lake -  Scrivani Fills Hole
VA TACF Board Member Dr. John Scrivani fills in the hole

In the AT Journeys article, Dayton Duncan spoke about the value of national parks:

I was able to show my children the exact same scenes — unchanged — 50 years later because we, as a people, had decided to preserved them unimpaired for future generations. That’s a remarkable inheritance[.]

American Chestnut Foundation President Bryan Burhans also thinks about future park visitors, but a little differently.

Your grandchildren someday may sit here at this spot, and the forest may look much different. That is a huge legacy to leave.

The American Chestnut Foundation strives to return the species to the forests in its native range, including Philpott Lake. This little sapling was the first of its kind to be planted in Bassett, Virginia, but it is the hope of all involved that one day it will be far from alone. When we gathered at Philpott Lake that Wednesday morning, we weren’t there just to watch the planting of a tree. We were there to celebrate a coming change to the landscape.

Dayton Duncan described national parks as “one of the last refuges where precious memories can be safely stored from one generation to the next.” Indeed, the American Chestnut Foundation and the staff of Philpott Lake aspire to safeguard memories. It’s just not the memories of adjacent generations.

They don’t want to show my children the small, stunted, black-barked chestnut trees I can find in the forest today. Nor what my father could see when he was he was boy. Not even my grandfather was born into a blight-free world.

It’s my great grandfather. Those are the memories they want to share.

More pictures of the Philpott Lake American Chestnut Planting can be found on my Flickr site.

More information about the American Chestnut and its restoration efforts can be found at the American Chestnut Foundation site.

Entry filed under: American Chestnut, American Chestnut Foundation, trees.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. geekhiker  |  March 30, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Sounds like how we’ve been feeling as the Oak Disease has been ravishing the west coast.

    You should start a Chestnut Tree Blog!

  • 2. tgaw  |  March 31, 2009 at 6:38 am

    @geekhiker – It is an exciting time to blog about the American Chestnut as so much progress has been made and there area lot of events going on at the moment!

  • 3. Festival of the Trees #34 « the Marvelous in nature  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    […] TGAW – Legacy and Inheritance on National Land Reestablishing the American Chestnut on national park lands. Fact: The American Chestnut is a prolific bearer of nuts, usually with three nuts enclosed in each spiny green burr, and lined in tan velvet. The nuts develop through late summer, the burrs opening and falling to the ground near the first fall frost. Prior to the chestnut blight that wiped out much of the population, the American Chestnut was a very important tree for wildlife, providing much of the fall mast for species such as White-tailed Deer and Wild Turkey and, formerly, the Passenger Pigeon. Black Bears were also known to eat the nuts to fatten up for the winter. (from Wikipedia) […]

  • 4. Dave  |  April 2, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Very cool. I’d love to see those trees make a comeback!

  • 5. Fairy Stone State Park « TGAW  |  June 29, 2009 at 5:38 am

    […] dogs to Fairy Stone State Park. We stayed in a cozy lake-side cabin for two nights, attending the planting of a blight resistant American Chestnut tree and managed to squeeze in three separate hikes during our short […]

  • 6. Wedding Behind the Scenes: Tree Tablecards « TGAW  |  March 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

    […] birthdays.  On Ryan’s 35th birthday, we stumbled on an American Chestnut bur on a hike.  On my 34th birthday, we attended the planting of a blight resistant […]


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