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Cynthia Hernandez, kneeling, with the Tennessee Environmental Council, describes the attributes of the American chestnut tree to local volunteers and park rangers who helped with the planting.

Cumberland Mountain State Park and the Tennessee Environmental Council have partnered on a project to restore the American chestnut tree across the state.

“We are planting American chestnut groves here at Cumberland Mountain State Park,” said Cynthia Hernandez of the Tennessee Environmental Council. “We’re planting two native American chestnut trees, two Chinese chestnut trees and two of the restoration hybrid trees.”

American chestnut trees have been devastated across the eastern part of the country due to blight, a group of tree diseases caused by fungus and bacterias. A new hybrid, blight-resistant chestnut has been developed. The new hybrid is 15 parts American chestnut to one part Chinese chestnut, as the Chinese chestnut has a natural immunity to blight.

Hernandez described the project at Cumberland Mountain State Park as a demonstration grove.

“It’s kind of like an experiment,” Hernandez said. “We expect the natives to catch the blight and die within five to eight years. The hybrids should grow to full size. They’re about 100 feet tall and 40 feet wide.”

Cumberland Mountain State Park had to pass a Phytophthora soil test and meet other criteria to participate in the tree restoration program. Phytophthora is a bacteria found in soil and can be harmful to the trees.

“It’s an honor to have someone contact us and have something like this,” Cumberland Mountain State Park ranger Mark Houston said. “It’s what we’re all about. It’s a community outreach for us.”

“We’re known to have every native shrub throughout the park,” Houston added. “We’re hoping that the soil is perfect to have some success.”

Nearly 20 local volunteers joined the Tennessee Environmental Council and park rangers in planting the trees.

The Tennessee Environmental Council’s mission is to educate and advocate for the improvement of Tennessee’s environment. On Tuesday, Hernandez was at Panther Creek State Park in Morristown working on the American chestnut restoration project.

The newly-planted chestnut grove is planted in the open field near the tennis courts and upper pavilion at Cumberland Mountain State Park.

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