Out & About: Help the Land Trust Map Chestnut Trees at Enfield’s Smith Pond

  • An American chestnut tree seedling. (Courtesy of the Upper Valley Land Trust)

  • An example of a mature chestnut tree. (Courtesy of the Upper Valley Land Trust)

  • The 995-acre Smith Pond Shaker Forest Conservation Area is owned by the Upper Valley Land Trust. (Courtesy of Upper Valley Land Trust)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Monday, August 27, 2018

Enfield — There was a time when chestnut trees were all over the eastern United States.

Known for their rot resistant wood, the trees were used to build houses and barns. The nuts themselves were a food source for wildlife and farm animals. Wander into any forest, and you were sure to come across a few trees. Go into any home and you’d likely see furniture made of them. The American chestnut was an integral part of daily life.

That changed in the early 1900s when chestnut blight fungus was introduced to the ecosystem and quickly took its toll on the once-formidable trees.

“It spread really rapidly among the eastern forests and basically demolished the entire chestnut population,” said Alison Marchione, programs director at the Upper Valley Land Trust.

But there are still some places where American chestnuts are able to grow and reach maturity before being taken out by the fungus. One of those places is right here in the Upper Valley at the 995-acre Smith Pond Shaker Forest Conservation Area in Enfield. Owned by the land trust since 2015, staff have made an interesting discovery as they began to build trails in the area.

“We have found mature chestnut trees,” Marchione said. “We have found saplings and stumps.”

The Upper Valley is at the top of the northern range for where chestnut trees were found, which may help explain why some are still able to prosper here.

“We are hopeful,” Marchione said. “We haven’t seen a sign of chestnut blight yet.”

So far, the nonprofit organization has identified four trees on the property and they’re looking to the public to help them find more.

Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. at the Enfield Public Works Department, the land trust will kick off their Chestnut Hunt Challenge event with an hourlong presentation about the American chestnut and how to collect data. After the presentation, people will be given six weeks to find and map chestnut trees on the Smith Pond property, using the iNaturalist app on their electronic devices. You do not need to attend the presentation to participate in the challenge.

“We’re pretty confident that there are more out there,” Marchione said. “It’s just important to us from sort of an environmental point of view to foster a habitat that these trees that are somewhat rare can grow and reproduce.”

It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of. Participants can stick to the trail, or if they’re comfortable and prepared, can go off trail to search for others. At the end of the six week period, the person who has found the most chestnut trees will win a prize.

“I think it makes the experience of doing something like this special, much more accessible,” Marchione said.

It also helps people get more invested in the land that they live near and can help preserve for future generations.

Editor’s note: For more information about the Chestnut Challenge, visit www.uvlt.org or call 603-643-6626. From 5-7 p.m. on Thursday at Smith Pond, the land trust is hosting a paddling event to learn about loons. It costs $20 to participate. Call to sign up. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.