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TACF presents the Chestnut Conservation Champion Award to Dolly Parton on behalf of her late uncle, Bill Owens

TACF President and CEO Lisa Thomson and Dolly Parton unveil award to honor Dolly's late Uncle Bill, who worked for decades to return the American chestnut to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Chestnut Conservation Champion Award presented to Dolly Parton in honor of her uncle, Bill Owens by TACF President & CEO Lisa Thomson. Award frame by Carolinas-TACF member, Jon Taylor. Details in post.

Foundation Sees Restoration of Functionally Extinct Chestnut Trees as a Path to Healthier Forests

ASHEVILLE, N.C., July 11, 2022 – The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) said today that its longtime mission of restoring the American chestnut tree to its native forests in the Eastern United States – in addition to bolstering communities and their economies – can contribute to healthier, more resilient forests.

TACF’s supporters include luminaries such as Dolly Parton, who recently accepted the Chestnut Conservation Champion Award on behalf of her late uncle, Bill Owens. “My Uncle Bill helped The American Chestnut Foundation for decades in their efforts to create a blight-resistant tree. He understood how much the tree meant to the quality of life for generations of Americans, and he took great pride in helping the Foundation in their work to bring back the chestnut,” Parton said. Owens helped advance TACF’s mission by planting research-grade, disease-resistant American chestnuts in the Great Smoky Mountains. The award was presented at the future site of Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort in Pigeon Forge, TN, where an American chestnut tree will be planted to honor Owens and his work with TACF.

“It’s widely accepted science that trees play a pivotal role in combating the existential threat of climate change and the increase of pests and pathogens plaguing our forests,” said Lisa Thomson, TACF’s President and CEO. “Adding the American chestnut to our toolbox of scientific strategies simply makes sense because our planet needs all the help it can get before it’s too late.”

(Award Design Credit: The frame, made of wormy American chestnut, was handcrafted by Carolinas-TACF Chapter member Jon Taylor. As an extra special touch, Jon added ebony bridge pins from a guitar on each corner of the frame, and a guitar string on the back as a hanger.)

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For more information, please visit our website. To arrange an interview about TACF’s work, email Director of Communications Jules Smith at jules.smith@acf.org.

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Thomson said TACF’s efforts relating to forest health and resilience will consist primarily of becoming increasingly focused on the issue while accomplishing what the foundation was established to do in 1983: Bring back the American chestnut after a blight from Asia was accidentally imported into the Eastern U.S., decimating an estimated four billion of these trees during the early to mid 1900s. Economically and ecologically important to humans and wildlife, its loss was catastrophic to the ecosystems where it dominated.

“There are a multitude of great reasons to reintroduce a blight-resistant American chestnut, but it is clear now that our work can also be used to help rescue other threatened tree species. Because healthy forests can play a key role in the mitigation of climate change, TACF is increasing its focus on the broader issue of forest health and the positive impact it can have on our climate” said William J. “Jay” Cude, III, Board Chair of TACF.

A few examples of TACF’s diverse, extensive efforts include:

  • Working to return a blight-resistant American chestnut to its native range. Owens championed that work in the Great Smoky Mountains in partnership with TACF, Dollywood, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and The American Eagle Foundation. (Chestnut trees will be featured in the artwork of guest rooms throughout Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort when it opens next year.)
  • Collaborating with academia, scientists, volunteers, and an array of other supporters to bring TACF’s mission to life. Examples include U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. This massive effort also aims to create a model for saving other imperiled tree species from invasive pathogens.
  • Producing a documentary that tells the story of both the American chestnut and of TACF. This tree has a remarkable place in American history and holds tremendous promise for the future. It benefited generations of families and communities, especially those in Appalachia, prior to the blight. Known as the “cradle to grave” tree, it fed people and animals, and its lumber was straight, strong, and rot-resistant. The restoration of the American chestnut will have a significant and positive impact in our forest ecosystems. The film is scheduled for release on Earth Day next year.

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About The American Chestnut Foundation 

Our mission is to return the iconic American chestnut to its native range. Our vision is a robust eastern forest restored to its splendor.

TACF is a 501(c)(3) conservation organization headquartered in Asheville, NC, with four regional offices in Asheville, Charlottesville, VA, South Burlington, VT, and State College, PA. TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms is located in Meadowview, VA. To learn about TACF’s mission, visit www.acf.org. Join the effort to rescue the American chestnut tree by becoming a member. Find us on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Dolly Parton’s support of TACF

Dolly Parton and her uncle, Bill Owens, have been longtime supporters of American chestnut restoration. We are so thankful for their continued support of The American Chestnut Foundation and its mission.