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Eastern Kentucky University: Fighting the Blight

EKU students, faculty, and staff work with TACF members to plant seedlings and “spruce up” the EKU-TACF seed orchard on Arbor Day 2018. Photo by Jennifer Koslow

EKU “Chestnuts and change” students work in the EKU-TACF seed orchard and interview Rex Mann for their video project. Photo by Alice Jones

More than 100 Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) students, faculty, and staff celebrated Arbor Day 2018 by helping plant more than 400 chestnut seedlings at EKU’s TACF seed orchard. In addition, Honors students in an experimental “Chestnuts and Change” course for non-science majors presented five educational and outreach videos to Rex Mann of TACF’s KY Chapter on May 2nd.

The partnership between EKU and TACF began in April 2016 with the establishment of a TACF seed orchard on EKU’s campus in Richmond, KY. In that first spring, more than 1,200 B3F2 seedlings were planted, with more added in the spring and fall of 2017. As of the April Arbor Day event, the orchard now contains roughly 2,700 seedlings.

In an area still resonant with stories of the American chestnut, EKU students benefit from hands-on experience in ecological restoration, and TACF expands its reach to a new generation. Hunter Burge, a Biology major who volunteered for the 2016 planting and returned for the 2018 Arbor Day event said, “it was really great to come back to the chestnut farm and observe how it had developed from two years ago. It goes to show the conservation efforts put in years ago have anything but gone to waste; the efforts have been worthwhile and will continue to be essential.”

EKU “Chestnuts and Change” students preparing for plot sampling at Lilley Cornett Woods in Letcher County, KY. Photo by Alice Jones

The “Chestnuts and Change” course, team-taught by geographer Alice Jones and Biologist Jennifer Koslow, used change in the deciduous forests of eastern North America in the wake of the chestnut blight as a touchpoint to teach scientific inquiry and communication, world climates and biomes, geographical analysis and landscape ecology, principles of ecological systems, speciation and evolution, and biological field research. The class included a field trip to Lilley Cornett Woods, an old-growth forest preserve in eastern Kentucky, helping with orchard planting and maintenance, and developing short educational videos for TACF.

Student Megan Wilhoite said of her involvement in the course: “We have spent the entirety of the semester studying quantitative and qualitative data and information on the American chestnut tree . . .[and] talking about solutions to the problem through restoration. I felt proud to be in the presence of other people involved with the foundation and use what I have learned in class and from them, especially Rex Mann, to work to make a difference.”

Student Jacquelynn Brian added, “thanks to this class I am more invested in the American chestnut than I thought. I deeply care about the restoration and am excited about everything that is being done to bring back the American chestnut.”

Click here to watch the videos!