Reclaiming an old mine site in eastern Kentucky offers new hope for re-establishing American chestnut trees in the Commonwealth. The chestnut, which was a major food source for mountain residents and wildlife, was virtually wiped out by disease in the early 1900’s.
Roughly 14,000 hardwood seedlings were planted on 16 acres in March (2012) in Lawrence County. Kentucky Forest Management Chief Pam Snyder says the project served a dual purpose.
“It allowed us to do again a larger project and by reintroducing trees back out onto the landscape, we’re reclaiming that coal mine site and introducing a new forest,” said Snyder.
In addition to oaks, hickories, black locusts, and elms, crossbred American chestnuts were also cultivated. Snyder says just a few American chestnuts remain in eastern Kentucky.
“Once the trees are large enough to start producing seed, we’re going to utilize these sites as collection points to be able to create a variant that’s geographic to Kentucky, as our own American chestnut source,” added Snyder.
The Division of Forestry used federal funds to demonstrate procedures for converting mine sites into working forests. It’s an effort to show businesses and private landowners some of the options for abandoned mine lands.