News Stories

High School Students Hopeful for Return of Chestnut Trees Planted at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir

Published March 7, 2017

   Agriculture and Future Farmers of America (FFA) students at West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek, North Carolina are doing their part to help bring back the American chestnut tree which was wiped out by a fungus in the beginning of the 20th century. 

   Agriculture teacher and FFA coordinator Jacob Shepherd said that after two years of speaking with officials from The American Chestnut Foundation, the Wilmington District’s W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, W. Kerr Scott Friends of the Lake and Appalachian State University, land was set aside on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers game lands to grow the trees.  The students planted roughly 650 trees and will closely monitor them over the years.  

   “The school agreed to provide 20 students who were interested in either horticulture or agriculture,” Shepherd said.  “We studied the plight of the chestnut trees, how they died.  So, the goal was to put some meaning behind what they were volunteering to do.  We learned how big the industry was before the blight.”

   According to the American Chestnut Foundation, a fungal pathogen was responsible for the chestnut blight that was accidentally imported into the U.S. from Asia. It was first detected in New York in 1904, and spread rapidly throughout the eastern forests. By 1950, the fungus had eliminated the American chestnut as a mature forest tree.  The tree was an essential component of the entire eastern U.S. ecosystem. It was the single most important food source for a wide variety of wildlife from bears to birds. Rural communities depended upon the annual nut harvest as a cash crop to feed livestock. In addition, the chestnut lumber industry was a major sector of rural economies.

   Shepherd said the planting program was modeled by the American Chestnut Foundation.  Students will initially monitor the trees for two years to see how they fare.  

   “The trees will fight for nutrients against the grasses that are also in the field where one batch is planted.  We also planted two sections in the woods.  We had to cut down other trees to let in light from a reduced canopy for better growing conditions.” 

   Shepherd said that in another four years students will go back to check on all of the trees to see how they’re doing.

   “It’ll be a multi-year process that will be monitored by several different age groups and senior classes.”