Bill Owens American Chestnut Fund
songwriter and musician, Bill Owens, has joined forces with Dollywood,
the American Chestnut Foundation, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga,
and the American Eagle Foundation to bring back the endangered American
Chestnut Tree to the Great Smoky Mountains area.
Owens, uncle to
Dolly Parton, has championed the cause of protecting the natural environment
at Dollywood since 1986. During that time, he has taken it upon himself
to plant about 70,000 trees on the theme park property.
The American Eagle
Foundation at Dollywood has established the Bill Owen American Chestnut
Fund to help continue Chestnut Tree research, breeding, and public
education work. Donations from the public are welcomed.
Owens, born in
1935 and now age 64, is a strong believer that we can reclaim the land
with trees. As a 16-year-old boy, he became fascinated by the unusual
Chestnut Tree stories he heard told by his dad and Dolly's dad —
including how a big old hollow Chestnut Tree was used by one of Dolly's
uncles as a wedding suite and temporary home. Thirty years ago, he was
inspired by the book, "Tree Crops, a Permanent Agriculture"
by J. Russell Smith. It convinced him that he could give something
very precious back to Tennessee and the mountain regions of this country.
He sees his work to restore the American Chestnut Tree not only as a way
to help preserve America's heritage, but also as a means to provide future
monetary gain for mountain folks.
Owens is credited with giving his young niece Dolly her start in the music
business. He took her to Nashville right after she graduated from high
school and introduced her to people in the music business.
He has written
over 800 songs, including an environmental awareness song titled "Cactus
Clyde," and is a regular Dollywood performer in the "Kin Folk
Band" at the Back Porch Theater.
The Chestnut Tree
paragraphs have been taken from "Where There be Mountains,
There be Chestnuts", a publication of the American
"Not too long
ago, the American chestnut was one of the most important trees of forests
from Main south to Georgia, from the Piedmont west to the Ohio valley.
In the heart of its range only a few generations ago, a count of trees
would have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples,
and other hardwoods. Many of the dry ridgetops of the central Appalachians
were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when
their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains
And the trees
could be giants. In virgin forests throughout their range, mature chestnuts
averaged up to five feet in diameter and up to one hundred feet tall.
from birds to bears, squirrels to deer, depended on the tree's abundant
crops of nutritious nuts. And chestnut was a central part of eastern
rural economies. As winter came on, attics were often stacked to the
rafters with flour bags full of the glossy, dark brown nuts. ... And
what wasn't consumed was sold. Chestnut was an important cash crop for
many Appalachian families.
The tree was
also one of the best for timber. It grew straight and often branch-free
for up to fifty feet. Loggers tell of loading entire railroad cars with
boards cut from just one tree. Straight-grained, lighter in weight than
oak and more easily worked, chestnut was as rot resistant as redwood.
It was used for virtually everything — telegraphy poles, railroad
ties, shingles, paneling, fine furniture, musical instruments, even
pulp and plywood.
Then the chestnut
blight struck. First discovered in 1904 in New York City, the lethal
fungus — an Asian organism to which our native chestnuts had very
little resistance — spread quickly. In its wake it left only dead
and dying stems. By 1950, except for the shrublike sprouts the species
continually produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone
species on some none million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.
plant pathologists and breeders tried to create a blight-resistant tree
by crossing our own species with the resistant Chinese tree, but always
with unsatisfactory results. Now, advances in our understanding of genetics
have shown us where those early researchers went wrong. more importantly,
we now know what path we must take to successfully breed an American
chestnut with resistance to this deadly invader. We now know we can
have this precious tree back."
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