Reclaimed Mine Site Will Nurture American Chestnut Trees

Reclamation of a surface mine site in Martin County is creating another foothold in a determined campaign to re-establish the once mighty American chestnut tree.

Students from two Martin County middle schools - Warfield and Inez - today planted chestnut seedlings, along with oak seedlings, at a mine site being reclaimed by Lexington Coal Co. The site is part of the company's 17 West mining complex near McClure.

The American chestnut, once the defining tree of hardwood forests in eastern North America, was ravaged and nearly eliminated by an Asian fungus. Unwittingly allowed into this country in imported trees in the early 1900s, the blight spread quickly. By 1940, nearly all of Kentucky's American chestnuts were gone.

Researchers have found that hardwood seedlings thrive in loosely compacted ground on reclaimed mine land. That technique now figures prominently in a multi-state effort - the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) - to re-establish the American chestnut and to generally promote the planting of high-value hardwoods on reclaimed mine lands. The ARRI coalition includes citizens, industry and the federal and state governments, including Kentucky Department for Natural Resources (DNR) and its Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.

Reclamation of mined land and restoration of the American chestnut are important to Kentucky's culture as well as to its environmental health, DNR Commissioner Susan C. Bush said.

"The American chestnut was once a central part of life in Kentucky and other states in Appalachia, used for everything from cradles to coffins, as the saying went," Bush said. "I'm sure that many of the students planting trees here today have ancestors who would be gratified by our reforestation initiative."

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