ROWLESBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Just south of Kingwood in Preston County, Rowlesburg held its 15th annual West Virginia Chestnut Festival on Sunday, but what’s so special about the chestnut tree that it needs its own festival?

A view of Rowelsburg from Canon Hill (WBOY image)
A view of Rowlesburg from nearby Canon Hill (WBOY image)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the eastern United States used to be the home of billions of American chestnut trees until an invasive parasitic fungus known simply as “chestnut blight” began to spread in the early 1900s, decimating the population of the American chestnut tree. Now, mature American chestnuts which used to be one of the most commonly found trees in North America are now considered a rarity.

Because of this, organizations like The American Chestnut Foundation are working to find ways to restore the American chestnut tree to its former glory. One of these methods is by cross-breeding American chestnut trees with the Chinese chestnut tree, which is resistant to chestnut blight.

Roasted chestnuts at the West Virginia Chestnut Festival (WBOY image)

To bring more attention to these efforts, a Rowlesburg man, Dr. Joseph Nassif, decided to create the West Virginia Chestnut Festival, as well as start a West Virginia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. Darrell Dean, the Co-Director of the festival, said Nassif and his father even had Chinese chestnut trees in their yard.

“It’s probably what happens in any place,” Dean said. “You have one individual that is interested in something, and is willing to invest the time, the energy, and the money sometimes, to see that it’s promoted; and that’s what Dr. Joe Nassif did.”

Now in its 15th year, the West Virginia Chestnut Festival continues to grow, showing off the works of local vendors and giving everyone a chance to try some roasted chestnuts.