Land & Conservation

Cathy Mayes: Marshall, Virginia

Chestnut Crusader

Photo: Michael JN Bowles

Mayes in Fauquier County, Virginia.

Cathy Mayes has no illusions about the challenge of restoring the American chestnut. Once common across many Southern forests, the chestnut was wiped out by an imported blight around the turn of the twentieth century. “I will never know if this work is successful,” says the chairman of the Virginia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. “But each generation has to turn the ball a bit to keep it rolling.” For five years Mayes, a retired attorney, has worked on projects to breed blight-resistant trees and raise awareness and money. Last year, her group completed the first large-scale test planting of chestnuts in Virginia. “The organization is not much bigger than folks sitting around a kitchen table,” she says. “Yet what we’re doing is truly astonishing—restoring a species on a magnitude beyond the scope of anything ecologists have ever attempted.”