Recovery of the American Chestnut
As the nation’s largest, new urban park system, The Parklands of Floyds Fork is projected to host 2.5 million visits in 2016 making it one of the fifty most visited urban parks in the nation. The park’s infrastructure—playgrounds, trails, education center, meeting facilities, pavilions, bridges and trails—was completed in just over five years. Shaping and growing the park’s landscape will be ongoing for the next century as staff intentionally establish and steward meadows, riparian corridors and forests.
A wide variety of oaks, hickories, maples and other hardwoods comprise forests presently found in the outer bluegrass region where The Parklands resides. Thanks to a generous gift from George and Betty Gibbs in 2012, The Parklands is now working with The American Chestnut Foundation to bring the American chestnut into the park’s forests.
“Restoring the American chestnut brings complexity and challenges that we would not be able to manage without the resources and support of the Gibbs’ and The American Chestnut Foundation,” said Parks Director Scott Martin. “We are proud to be part of a much larger effort to establish a blight resistant strain of chestnuts that will thrive in the outer bluegrass region of Kentucky.”
George Gibbs, a retired United States Forest Service forester, and his wife Betty, an avid angler and lover of Kentucky’s outdoors, introduced The Parklands to the chestnut recovery community. George also brought with him experience and passion, sharing important insights on forest planning and management, while helping to develop a vigorous partnership between The Parklands and The Kentucky Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (KY-TACF).
The first phase of work began four years ago when The Parklands established the George and Betty Gibbs American Chestnut Grove in Beckley Creek Park. The team planted 16 native chestnuts and 20 B3F3s, also known as 15/16th American/Chinese hybrids. The Grove has since been manicured and carefully tended by The Parklands horticultural team. In addition to enclosing the grove last summer, the team has made significant improvements to the soil profile throughout the years, including the importation of sandy loam from Eastern Kentucky. A layer of pine mulch is spread across the grove annually to improve acidity at the site.
During warmer months, work in the Grove is supported by Parklands volunteers, including frequent visitor Joel LeGris. Tending to the Grove is a role that comes naturally to LeGris who spent 31 years as an agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He now works as a part-time land manager, but makes time to visit the grove each week to water and remove invasive species.
The surviving chestnuts show promise. Even after infection, the trees can survive for some time, producing nuts that can be planted. In 2015, trees in the grove produced their first nuts, one of which matured and was potted. It’s now in an on-site nursery along with fifty potted American chestnuts that The Parklands received after sponsoring a Legacy Tree with The American Chestnut Foundation.
While the Grove works well as a study site, The Parklands’ long term goal is the sustained establishment of chestnuts in a natural, forest setting. This fall, the second and most exciting phase of the chestnut initiative begins when the nursery-grown trees are planted at a special “wild” site where the team discovered silt loam containing acidity favorable for chestnut growth.
The new site already contains oaks, hickories and hornbeam. Together these trees will create a forest with the complexion of a classic chestnut forest, offering much needed shade to the young chestnuts. Once planted, the site will be monitored, similar to the Chestnut Grove. If successful, additional “wild” plots will be established in other locations of The Parklands where soil is favorable.
Over the next couple of years, Parklands staff will continue working with KY-TACF to gain knowledge of best practices for chestnut growth. For more information on The Parklands and our horticultural initiatives, please visit our website at www.theparklands.org or call (502) 584-0350.
About The Parklands of Floyds Fork
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a nearly 4,000-acre donor-supported public park system within the Floyds Fork watershed in eastern and southeastern Louisville. The $125 million project was funded through more than $70 million in private donations, combined with almost $50 million from federal, state and local government sources. Ongoing operations and maintenance are funded solely through private donations and an endowment fund. Community members may contribute to the annual fund by becoming a Parklands Member. Learn more at www.theparklands.org/member.
One of the largest and most ambitious metropolitan park projects in the nation, The Parklands is a dream realized by 21st Century Parks, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established to create and preserve new unexcelled parks that serve as city-shaping infrastructure. 21st Century Parks is responsible for fundraising, land acquisition, construction, and long-term operations of the new park system.