Legacy and Inheritance on National Land
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.
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.