Dolly Parton

World-renowned singer and entertainer Dolly Parton has just released a new song celebrating progress in the restoration of the once mighty American chestnut tree, as well as the work of the organization at the forefront of these restoration efforts: The American Chestnut Foundation.

What do Dolly Parton and a nearly vanished tree once known as "The Redwood of the East" have in common? The answer is mountains. "Dolly's music is rooted in the Appalachians," says her uncle, singer-songwriter Bill Owens. "The American chestnut was once the most important tree in these mountains, feeding wildlife and people alike."

Virtually wiped out by a blight in the early twentieth century, this magnificent tree is today poised for a comeback, thanks in large part to decades of work by TACF’s scientists and thousands of volunteers. To help in this effort, Dolly and Owens collaborated on and recorded the song, Oh, Chestnut Tree, which is available as a free download on TACF's website:

The song's release comes as TACF celebrates its 30th anniversary and has recently established plantings of first-generation, potentially blight-resistant trees, called Restoration Chestnuts 1.0. This success delights Owens. A Nashville legend, Owens has written and recorded over 800 songs and is credited with launching Dolly's career; he bought Dolly her first guitar at age 7 and arranged for her to sing on local radio show when she was 10.

Owens is also a passionate conservationist and has been a member of TACF for 25 years. He has been instrumental in planting some 70,000 trees at Dollywood, including hundreds of American chestnut trees. "I grew up hearing stories of how important the chestnut was to the mountain way of life," says Owens. "The importance of the American chestnut to the Smoky Mountain region is hard to overstate, and its loss created considerable hardship."

The American chestnut was a forest giant, often growing up to a hundred feet tall and five feet in diameter. The tree was an icon of life in rural Appalachia, providing rot-resistant lumber as well as a cash crop of nuts that saw many a mountain family through the winter. In the early years of the twentieth century, a fungus, accidentally imported from Asia, spread rapidly through the American chestnut population, and by 1950 the blight had killed about four billion mature trees from Maine to Georgia. Several attempts to breed blight-resistant trees in the mid-1900s were unsuccessful.

Then, in 1983, a dedicated group of scientists formed The American Chestnut Foundation and began a special breeding process that in 2005 produced the first potentially blight-resistant trees. Now assisted by nearly 6,000 members and volunteers in 16 state chapters, the organization is undertaking the planting of Restoration Chestnuts in select locations throughout the eastern United States.

TACF is a 501(c)3 conservation organization headquartered in Asheville, NC.