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March 28, 2014

Chestnuts are making a comeback

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The Daily Star

---- — For better than 10 years I leased an old log cabin in the Adirondacks on International Paper Land east of Speculator. We had wonderful times there hunting and fishing. The camp was located just a few feet from the state’s Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, so we had great access to backcountry lakes and forests on the state land.

Just as you crossed Cisco Brook, a huge, white pine tree stood next to the trail. It was massive with a trunk six or seven feet in diameter, and its branches reached nearly to the clouds. I always said that someone could build an entire house from that tree alone. But that old tree wasn’t alone. There were many of those old giants still standing in that vast forest.

A few miles cross lots away, there is a stand of white pines that were here long before the early settlers wandered into those mountains. The area called Pine Orchard has the largest white pines in the state, and maybe even in the country. Those trees are far bigger than the one along Cisco Brook. Three men can’t reach around their massive trunks. Many of them have succumbed to time and weather. They have fallen to the forest floor, where they eventually will rot and return to the thin, rocky soil.

Trees such as these will never grow like that again. It’s worth the hike just to see these evergreen giants. If you’re interested, drive north to Wells along New York’s Route 30. Just before the bridge at the upper end of Lake Algonquin, turn right up the blacktop road and continue for a couple of miles. Turn right up Windfall Road for about a mile until you reach Dorr Rd. Turn right again and drive to the end of the road and the parking area. It’s not much more than a mile or so in from there. Trust me, it’s well worth the walk.

It’s too bad that disease and foreign insects are destroying the forests of this country. We lost the chestnut and the elm. The beech are steadily dying and now the ash. When will it ever end?

Well, you can do something to help. The American chestnut was the dominant hardwood tree in our forests 100 years ago, but a blight killed most of them. Recently, The American Chestnut Foundation has been working with SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry to produce a blight-resistant chestnut tree. Finally, a disease-resistant tree has been produced. Over the next few years, they will be producing as many of these as possible to jump-start the reforestation of these beautiful trees and renew our forests.

If you would like to help, contact Allen Nichols, who lives near Laurens, at 607-263-5105. He’s the president of the NY Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. Check out ESF’s website to find out more about the Darling Trees at www.esf.edu/chestnut/resistance.htm. They need our help.

Maybe once again we can see something “under the spreading chestnut tree,” as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said. It probably won’t be a village smithy. There aren’t many of them around anymore, but the chestnut tree is on its way back.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.