Bringing Back the American Chestnut Tree in the Hopewell Valley

The Hopewell Township Environmental Commission and Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) teamed up in early May to plant 170 American chestnuts at the Fiddler’s Creek Preserve (opposite Baldpate Mountain.) The preserve features a fenced in 40-acre former farm field which is the site of a large scale re-forestation effort by FoHVOS and the Mercer County Park Commission. Over 7,000 trees and shrubs have been planted by volunteers at the site since 2011.

Environmental Commission member Mike Aucott initiated the chestnut planting project and directed the planting at several locations throughout Hopewell Township. The planting of the chestnuts this May at Fiddlers Creek Preserve was done by volunteers and FoHVOS Stewardship Director Mike Van Clef. The photo at right shows the location of where some chestnuts were planted. Similar groupings of planting sites were scattered throughout the enclosed area. The plastic tubes tied to stakes were placed on top of the chestnuts to protect them from being eaten by squirrels.

Appalachian family with
American chestnut tree

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large tree in the beech family native to eastern North America. Before the species was devastated by chestnut blight, an invasive fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century by blight after its initial discovery in 1904. Chestnut blight is caused by an Asian bark fungus introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees.

The planting at Fiddler’s Creek is part of a large scale cross breeding effort to plant thousands of chestnuts throughout the Northeast. This effort is spearheaded by The American Chestnut Foundation which has pioneered a backcross breeding technique in an attempt to restore the American chestnut to its original habitat. What was done at the Fiddler’s Creek Preserve is the first time hybrid chestnuts have been planted in New Jersey using this technique. A second stage involves the planting of hybrid chestnut seedlings several years from now, which will cross breed with the trees planted from chestnuts.

Hopefully we can bring this prized hardwood tree back to the Hopewell Valley!

(Hikers can access Fiddler’s Creek Preserve and a small parking area from Fiddler’s Creek Road via a dirt driveway about a quarter mile east of the Baldpate Mountain entrance.  A small Fiddler’s Creek Preserve sign marks the driveway entrance.)

Author Tom Ogren has been a FoHVOS Trustee since 2007 and is a former Pennington Borough Council member. In his free time, you’ll find Tom planting trees and building trails in preserves throughout our Valley.

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