Thursday, October 10, 2013
“Ozark chinquapin nuts were delicious and we waited for them to fall like you would wait on a crop of corn to ripen… they were that important. Up on the hilltop the nuts were so plentiful that we scooped them up with flat blade shovels and loaded them into the wagons to be used as livestock feed, to eat for ourselves, and to sell. Deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels and a variety of other wildlife fattened up on the sweet crop of nuts that fell every year. But, starting in the 1950s and ‘60s, all of the trees started dying off. Now they are all gone and no one has heard of them.”
That quote from a 93-year old Missouri outdoorsman is found on the website of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation describing the trees before the chestnut blight reached the Ozark Mountains. But, in fact, the Ozark chinquapins, also known as the Ozark chestnuts, are not all gone. Many have sprouted up from roots of chinquapins that died due to the blight. Some trees survive long enough to produce nuts that can grow into new trees. And the search is on for the “supertree,” a chinquapin that can survive the blight.
One candidate for that is found on the property of Cris and Eleanor Jones, who live about four miles east of Gateway. Norman “Bert” Camp of Elk Ranch, who has worked for years to find blight resistant chinquapins, including trying to propagate the tree himself, said the chinquapin on the Jones property is one of the largest he has seen in years. Usually the tree will only grow for a few years before it is killed by the chestnut blight.
That tree, and a number of other chinquapins on the Jones’ property and on the property of a neighbor nearby in Benton County, are in the right-of-way for the American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company’s (SWEPCO’s) preferred route 33, which would have a 150-ft.-right-of-way for the Shipe Road to Kings River high voltage transmission line.
Camp said chinquapins like to grow on ridge tops. SWEPCO’s route 33 often follows ridge tops, as well.
“They would take out a lot of chinquapins if route 33 is approved,” Camp said. “There is no doubt about that. And one could be the master tree that has developed resistance to the blight that could be used to bring the chinquapins back.”
The chestnut blight came into the U.S. in a botanical exhibit in the 1901 World’s Fair in New York. It spread throughout the Northeast killing 85 percent of the chestnut trees by the 1920s. Camp said by the 1940s, it started killing off the Ozark chinquapins in large numbers.
Before that, chinquapins were an important food source to many types of wildlife, as well as humans. “You could go to school and probably trade chinquapins for lunch,” said Camp, whose family has lived in the Beaver area since 1852.
The Joneses bought their home and 13 acres surrounding it 18 years ago. A year later they bought additional acreage to the north for its great natural beauty and to prevent it from being developed. Ironically, it is that land they bought to preserve that would be cut through by the proposed 345-kiloVolt power line.
The couple loves the outdoors and hiking, and has hand-built three miles of trails on their property. They feel that having massive 130–150-ft.-tall monopoles with a 150 ft.-wide clear cut through their property would destroy the natural paradise they have worked to preserve.
“We enjoy all of our land here year around,” Eleanor Jones said. “We bought that land to keep it from being encroached upon. We take people on hikes through that land to see the thousands of wildflowers we have on paths going down to Poddy Hollow Creek. This power line would take away the value of the land for us.”
A nearby neighbor, Chuck Chiasson, also has chinquapins in the way of the proposed route 33. Chiasson said the line would devalue his property, and ruin the view on the property it would run through.
Pat Costner, director of Save the Ozarks, a citizen group that has intervened with the Arkansas Public Service Commission to oppose the project on grounds including the powerline not being needed, said the Jones property and many other special areas of the Ozarks would be destroyed if SWEPCO is allowed to proceed.
“The Ozarks have been here 200 million years and are the oldest mountains in North America,” Costner said. “There are 160 species of plants that are found only here. SWEPCO has shown that preserving the chinquapin and other rare plants is not their priority. But it is the priority of many of us who live and visit the Ozarks to preserve not just the unique trees, bushes and flowers, but the salamanders, bats and everything else here that is so precious. It is a privilege to appreciate these natural resources, and our right and responsibility to protect them.”
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