ENFIELD — The Upper Valley Land Trust has wrapped up their Chestnut Challenge, announcing that perspicacious hikers found a grand total of 16 American Chestnut trees in the Smith Pond Shaker Forest. Chestnut trees once blanketed the Northeast with white flowers in the spring and edible nuts in the fall, until they were wiped out by an invasive fungus in the early 20th century.
For the Chestnut Challenge participants were asked to use their cell phones to document chestnut trees they found in Smith Pond Shaker Forest, recently acquired by UVLT. Because the phones’ GPS systems can find the loci of the pictures, this method prevented trees from being counted two or three times. Whoever found the most chestnuts, and documented them through the iNaturalist app won the challenge.
Three people won the challenge together: Mark Blanchard of Orford, and his friends Peter LaBounty and Nancy Sandell, of Piermont, who together found 10 trees in one two-hour outing.
According to UVLT’s website, hikers found three groups of mature trees and two seedlings not near any as-yet -identified mature trees. “Tree size ranged from seedings, to one young tree, and up to at least seven mature trees. The largest tree so far identified on the property is seven inches in diameter and 35 feet high. Five of the trees were 25 feet and higher. At least five trees were found to be producing nuts.”
The American Chestnut Foundation may visit the forest to take samples of the trees, and see if the nuts are viable. In the sample taken by UVLT, the nuts didn’t appear to be viable as they were small and dried out.
However, staff at UVLT are optimistic that with this many chestnuts having been found in such a short time, there may be many more out there. “The multiple groups of several mature trees is a good sign that the trees are pollinating and potentially producing viable seeds.”