Hikers go to Delaware’s only mature American chestnut tree

Kesler, a friend who recently moved to Chester County, said she once lived in Virginia on a dry, stunted American chestnut tree. So he wanted to see an adult in person.

Courtney Streett, a Native American and member of the Nanticoke Tribe in Sussex County, couldn’t wait to see her.

“The American chestnut has had an important role for local communities in the United States,” Streett said. “To have a mature tree like this is incredibly unusual and to have the opportunity to see it is something really special.”

Courtney Streett says the American chestnut is part of her Nanticoke tribe’s heritage. (Chris Barrish/WHY)

There are no primeval forests left in Delaware, but this one is pretty old.

Two guides from the Delaware Nature Society accompanied the hikers in separate groups on what was essentially a scenic walk along wide trails and over a wooden bridge crossing a flowing river.

However, in the end it was a steep and hard slide over weeds and stickers, fallen branches, twigs and tree trunks.

“It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere,” guide Joe Sebastiani gleefully warned.

A group of people are walking alone in the forest.
The last quarter mile of ground to a mature American chestnut tree in Delaware is rougher and steeper. (Chris Barrish/WHY)

The tour was the first to be promoted by the nature society, which owns the preserve, as a chance to see the American chestnut, and many hikers said they jumped at the opportunity after seeing or hearing WHY’s story in September.

The land is not open to the public except for special tours, so on this warm October day, visitors were treated not only to the sight of a special chestnut, but also to a colorful afternoon in a literally glowing old forest. with yellow, brown, red and orange.

A sign reads,
A rare mature American chestnut tree stands “in the middle of nowhere” deep within the Coverdale Ranch Preserve. (Chris Barrish/WHY)

Leading the group, Sebastiani took the time to identify a variety of trees such as sugar maple, American hazel, Eastern red cedar, green and white ash, beech, black oak and sycamore, plus several towering tulips and majestic state champions. black gum tree.

“Old growth means it’s probably been about 150 years since it was last cut,” Sebastiani said. “All the forests here have been cut down at one point or another. Delaware doesn’t have any primeval forests left, but it’s pretty old.

The majesty of some trees, three feet in diameter and 125 feet tall, was proof of Sebastiani’s claim.

Sebastiani also shared his encyclopedic knowledge of the reserve.

He would stop and point in the distance, once to a small hawk he recognized as an American kestrel, and once to a trio of deer scampering across a distant meadow.

A man is holding a leaf in the middle of the forest.
Sebastiani shows travelers the distinctive jagged leaves of a young, diseased American chestnut. (Chris Barrish/WHY)

He explained how an insect like the fungus that destroys the American chestnut also destroys ash trees.

It stood on a set of rocks created more than half a century ago as a reflective space for former DuPont CEO Crawford Greenwalt, who once owned the land.

The group even stopped to experience a cascade of leaves falling from the trees to the ground with the gentle patter of rain.

Sebastiani then silenced everyone crawling on the slope where the owls gathered for a few minutes. He found a few sparks, but no one saw one of the elusive creatures.

And when he pointed to a palm tree with a piece of fruit dangling from a limb, Sheila urged Vincent to take a bite.

“It’s delicious,” Vincent said.

“Acerbic?” asked a hiker.

Vincent said it was a little dry, but overall “very sweet.”

‘We’re going to rock our way a bit this way’

After about an hour, the relaxing waltz was over. Sebastiani pointed to the slope.

“Okay. We’ll get off the trail,” he said. “We’ll go up the side of the hill, that dry top. And we’ll go right through those mature woods to the chestnut tree.”

Streett soon understood what he meant.

“You’ve lost your way,” someone said as they struggled to the top.

Street stepped on his tender rib, “He said, ‘Follow me,’ and I said, ‘He’s that bite,'” he said with a laugh.

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