Wilton Land Conservation Trust, chestnut foundation establish orchard

The Wilton Land Conservation Trust, The American Chestnut Foundation and community members recently established a germplasm conservation orchard at the Conservation Trust’s 183 Ridgefield Road Preserve in Wilton.

Members of the community gathered at the Wilton Conservation Land Trust (WCLT) preserve to establish a Germplasm Conservation Orchard (GCO) of American chestnut trees. The enthusiastic and diverse group assembled around the foundation of the currently under-construction Offutt Barn.

There, they heard opening statements from David McCarthy, executive director of the Converstion Trust, Stephen White, president of the Conservation Trust and Jack Swat, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

Connecticut State Rep. Stephanie Thomas and Connecticut State Rep. Anne Hughes helped to launch the event with preludes.

McCarthy welcomed the group to the preserve.

"Today, we're making history by establishing an American chestnut tree orchard on the 183 Preserve to help save the tree from the brink of extinction," McCarthy said at the onset of the environmental event.

"We're very grateful for everyone coming out today," White said.

In attendance were George Bauer, angel donor of the Save 183 Campaign, state Rep. Thomas, state Rep. Hughes, Swat, White, Vice President of the Conservation Trust Craig E. Johnson, Treasurer of the Conservation Trust Michael E. Foster, as well as Conservation Trust trustees Brett D. Amero, Scott M. Bogan, Donna Merrill and McCarthy.

To help restore the American chestnut tree from the brink of extinction, the Wilton community, the American Chestnut Foundation, the Conservation Trust, with great thanks to Ring's End, successfully established a Germplasm Conservation Orchard.

The group of community volunteers also worked together under the direction of Swat and planted the first 10 of 100 American chestnut trees at the grounds of the preserve.

“It was a community workday filled with sunshine, smiles and laughter,” WLCT said in a release.

The group received information and instructions from Swat then broke into groups and got to work. Volunteers ranging in ages from five-years-old to 70 plus years-old took over the landscape. Together, they prepped the site, and installed a deer exclosure around each tree to protect them from deer browse. Then, they took turns planting 10 very delicate American chestnut trees, forever changing the landscape and history at the Preserve.

“It was amazing to see such a committed and passionate group,” McCarthy said. “ One year ago, when I became the executive director of the WLCT, I committed myself to build a bigger community that's centered around nature, and today, I observed it,” McCarthy said.

The goal of the Conservation Trust and Foundation is to plant 10 to 20 trees a year to reach an orchard of 100 trees at the Preserve. The orchard functions to cross breed American chestnut trees and increase their resistance against the chestnut blight. As the trees grow and mature, they will produce nuts for harvesting that will seed future orchards. The orchard will serve as a source of education for the greater Wilton community and inform science better.

“The WLCT is honored to do its small part to help the American Chestnut Foundation bring back the American chestnut tree from the brink of extinction, hoping that it will one day reforest its original habitat from Maine to the southern Appalachians,” the Conservation Trust told Hearst Connecticut Media.

The Mission of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation is to restore a blight resistant American chestnut tree to the forests the state.

More than a century ago, nearly four billion American chestnut trees were growing in the Eastern part of the U.S. However, the tree is now considered extinct in the wild. When the famous lyrics of singer Nat King Cole’s, “The Christmas Song,” “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” were written in 1945, most of the American chestnut trees were already gone, victims of a blight that would eventually eradicate the entire species. The chestnut blight has been called the most significant ecological disaster to strike the world's forests in all of history.

The chestnut blight fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, was accidentally imported on plant material in the late 19th century and first identified as a new pathogen in New York City in 1904. The blight, a fungus, to which chestnuts have very little resistance, spread quickly. By 1950, except for the shrubby root sprouts the species characteristically produces, the foundational tree species that could once spread across 180 million acres of eastern forests had disappeared. The American chestnut tree survived all adversaries for 40 million years, then disappeared within 40. More information is available at the Foundation’s website at acf.org.

The Conservation Trust is a not-for-profit organization that protects Wilton's unique natural, scenic, and historical landscapes through conservation, community and stewardship. The Conservation Trust is also a community focused land trust that is dedicated to preserving land for open space, protecting biodiversity and promoting environmental awareness and education.

“The organizations efforts are made possible by the leadership of its all volunteer Board of Trustees, its interns and volunteers' dedication, and the generous support of its friends and members,” the release stated. One hundred percent of the Conservation Trust’s operational funding comes from its members.

“The Conservation Trust is very fortunate to have passionate volunteers and members committed to its Mission,” the Conversation Trust told Hearst Connecticut Media.