American Chestnut Expedition -  July 12, 2004

Overview of the Chestnut Tree, Height 62 feet, CBH 3.9 feet - measurements by Dale Luthringer, photo by Ed Frank

American Chestnut Expedition, Brockway, PA, July 12, 2004

 I awakened early, before the alarm went off, to the sound of thunder and rain falling on the roof.  The planned trip looked like it was off for the day as I fell back to sleep.  I awakened again a few minutes past nine, the rain had stopped and the sun struggled to peak through the clouds.  I jumped out of bed, at least as fast as I can at that time of the morning, because there was still time to make the trip.  A quick shave, a change of clothes, and I was off to meet the intrepid Dale Luthringer at Sheetz in Falls Creek, PA.  We were off to see, photograph, and measure a particular American Chestnut tree.  I arrived with five minutes to spare for the 9:30 meeting time.  Dale was already waiting after an early morning shift at UPS.  I bought a Mountain Dew and we were off.

 For those of you without the background information, in 1904 an Asian fungus, the chestnut blight, spread out across the country from an initial source at the Bronx Zoological Garden.  The American Chestnut had little resistance to the blight.  American Chestnuts, once was a major part of the American forest landscapes, were virtually wiped out by the 1920’s.  Sprouts  from roots of the trees still send up shoots.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of chestnut tree of shrub height, perhaps a handful of larger ones, in the small patch of woods behind my home.  None of them have reached reproductive maturity.  Only a handful of American Chestnuts ever reach this state before succumbing to the blight. 

 The impetus for this trip started a week previously.  There had been a full page article in the local paper-  Tri-County Sunday, dated July 4, 2004, page A2, by a local writer named Kimberly Finnegan.  The article was entitled “American chestnut tree fight hits area.”  The article talked about efforts in the local area by the American Chestnut Foundation.  to try to re-establish the American Chestnut tree in this country.  There were also a series of nice photographs taken of the efforts by Ms. Finnegan.

 The newspaper article focused on one tree along Rattlesnake Road here in Jefferson County, PA.  This tree is one of five locally being used by the American Chestnut Foundation in its breeding program.  Using a bucket truck donated by a the local United Electric Cooperative, Gary Gilmore of the Jefferson County DCNR, and Dave Lazor  of the ACF, bagged the reproductive parts of the tree, green burrs growing near the top of the tree, to keep them from being pollinated.  Altogether 110 burrs were bagged in the process.  They returned a second time to pollinate the burrs using pollen from a chestnut research orchard in the Hawker Hill area of PA.  Toward the end of September or October they will return to collect the fertile chestnuts.  The ACF is attempting to breed resistance into the species by cross breeding it with resistant Chinese Chestnuts.  More information about the organization is available at the above web address and also at the Pennsylvania Chapter’s website:  

Close-up of the bark of this young, but mature American Chestnut.

The intrepid Dale Luthringer measuring the Chestnut tree.

Notice placed on the tree by the American Chestnut Foundation.


 The tree was described as being from 80 to 100 feet high.  I had my doubts about the height as they were using a bucket truck to reach the top of the tree, but there was a photo of the tree’s trunk that looked to be at least 10 to 12 inches across.  This sparked my interest.  I have seen chestnut trees as  long ago as I can remember.  Even the rustic rails around our back patio are made of chestnut logs from trees dead for eighty years collected from the woods behind the house, but I had never seen one “in bloom.”  I emailed Dale about the Chestnut Tree.  There was a generalized description of the trees location in the article, but that likely was not enough.  The Gary Gilmore in the article is someone I have met, and a good friend of Dale’s.  Dale emailed him and we got better directions, and GPS coordinates for the tree, and for a couple of other chestnuts of interest in the same area.  We set the time for Dale and I to go check it out.

 After getting my Mountain Dew I hopped into Dales truck and we were off.  The American Chestnut Expedition, even though we planned to only visit one tree, that is no reason not to have an impressive title.  We followed the instructions and after only one missed turn, we found the tree.  It was adjacent to the dirt road in a stand of relatively young second growth trees.  The entire top of the tree was covered with fronds.  Half of them were covered by small white bags awaiting the pollinated flowers to grow into chestnuts.  I walked around the tree and took a series of photographs, while Dale measured the height of the tree.  Before arriving I expected something more on the line of 45 to 50 feet, Gary Gilmore estimated 65 feet.  Dale measured the tree to be 62 feet high, an average of two readings, and having a circumference of 3.9 feet.  After spending some time examining the tree, we headed back to Falls Creek.  It was wet to go tramping into the woods in search of the other chestnuts for which we had locations, the storm looked as if it was about to refire, and I had to be at work by 11 o’clock.  We plan to check out the other trees soon.

 The American Chestnut Foundation has a form on their website in which visitors are ask to report chestnut trees found in the wild.  There is a description explaining how to tell the difference between American Chestnut, Chinese Chestnut, and hybrids of the two.  I am sure they would appreciate reports of any reproductively mature chestnuts that any of you may find in your forest travels.  I have posted a series of pictures from the trip on the ENTS website at:  

 If the address wraps you can select the American Chestnut gallery from the Eastern Trees Gallery main page. 

 I would like to encourage ENTS members to take photos on their various field trips.  If you do not want to attach them to the posts to the newsgroup because of size considerations, email them to me and I will post them, at least temporarily on the ENTS website and you can refer to this gallery in your field trip post.

Ed Frank