Master Naturalists--A Natural Partner for the Chestnut Project

Of 45 participants training for the A.T. MEGA-Transect Chestnut Project in 2010, at least thirty were members of Master Naturalist Chapters. MEGA-Transect volunteers participate in a full day of training to learn to recognize American chestnut trees in a trail setting and to learn how to collect and record information about the American chestnut trees growing along the Appalachian Trail. This data collection is part of a long-term study that scientists hope will provide insights to inform future efforts to restore the American chestnut to its former place in the Appalachian forest, as well as identifying pollen producing trees that may contribute genetic diversity to the backcross breeding program.

"This is a really a great match up." says A.T. MEGA-Transect Chestnut Project coordinator Kathy Marmet. "The Master Naturalists have already had forty hours of training in the natural sciences, including identification skills, when they sign up for the Chestnut Project training. Our training helps them meet the Master Naturalist requirement of an additional eight hours of advanced training, and the time these volunteers spend on the trail counting American chestnuts counts toward their required forty hours of volunteer service."

The Master Naturalist program attracts people who enjoy the challenge of working outdoors. As Shenandoah Chapter Master Naturalist Marjorie Prochaska wrote after spending a day counting chestnuts on the trail in Shenandoah National Park, "This is so much fun. I have to tell you, it was absolute bliss in the park last week. There was so much diversity. I was impressed."

When Master Naturalists enjoy the training and the challenge of finding and counting American chestnut trees, they share the experience with others. Ed Dorsey of the Old Rag Master Naturalists put it this way, "I can't stop talking to my friends about it." Although other states have started Master Naturalist programs, the Virginia program is especially active. Members of twelve different Virginia Master Naturalist chapters and one West Virginia chapter participated in the MEGA-Transect Chestnut Project in 2010.