The Great American Chestnut Trip: Maine Edition

After finishing up in Vermont, we drove east about 5 hours and ended up in (very rural) Atkinson, Maine. The tiny town we stayed in was great; bordering a river, and full of history. Our group lived in a 100 year old farmhouse with antique furniture and a huge wood stove that made me feel like I was a million miles away from civilization. I had so much fun cooking meals and playing cards with everyone in the kitchen, and then swimming in the river after a long day of field work.

The Atkinson site itself is a nature preserve bordering a small farm, and very far away from human traffic. Walking in, I was struck by just how quiet the forest was without any nearby roads. Our lunch spot was in the middle of a giant patch of evergreens, lovingly nicknamed “Fir Hell,” that smelled amazingly of christmas trees and kept me humming holiday tunes all day. All in all, a Atkinson is a pretty wonderful place to work (beats the office any day).

Compared to Berlin, this site was massive– there were hundreds and hundreds of plots to work through. By the end of the two weeks, I believe we had measured over a thousand chestnuts. As we worked across the grid, we got the chance to see how diverse the ecology of the forest truly was. In a single day, I’d pass through open meadows, leafy green valleys (Fern Gully), and massive ravines that required serious climbing skills to traverse (the Cliffs of Joy). Navigating these areas was difficult at times, but left me feeling like a brave adventurer. I certainly never could get bored!


Blight was much less prevalent here that in Vermont, but still had a formidable presence here. It’s difficult to see the Chestnuts, beautiful and ancient, struggling and half-dead from disease. And it’s hard to imagine that the trees we’ve dedicated so much of our time to studying will no longer exist in Atkinson in only a few years. Yet this is a very real possibility, given the rate that the blight has progressed in the past year. It is humbling to think about. Nevertheless, the Chestnuts live on, and will be around for a while yet. This opportunity to witness a vanishing species has been a great one, and I truly appreciated every moment of the trip. IMG_4847