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Innerviews: Belle mayor unwinds 'out on the hill'

Chris Dorst
A familiar figure in the town of Belle, Mayor Glen "Buck' Chestnut talks with pride about the improvements he's engineered since his appointment a year ago. The list includes two walking machines, new tables and chairs, zumba classes and a jam session at Town Hall, the purchase of a flat bed truck and four-wheel drive vehicle, a town website and a new batting cage for Riverside High School.
Chris Dorst "If I were rich ...
Chris Dorst ... I probably would have helped ...
Chris Dorst ... every person in the world."
Courtesy photo Overalls in this early class picture reflect Buck Chestnut's farm boy background.
Courtesy photo A school picture shows Belle's future mayor, Buck Chestnut, as a 10th grader.
Courtesy photo With his mother in the background, Buck Chestnut played on the family farm on Maple Road in Belle.
Courtesy photo A tree farmer, Belle Mayor Buck Chestnut spends a lot of time performing chores on his 308-acre property on Blue Creek near Elk River.

CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- He's best known as the can-do mayor of Belle and a tireless community volunteer. But in forestry circles, Glen "Buck" Chestnut has another prestigious identity: award-winning tree farmer.

This year, his 308-acre farm on Blue Creek was named the county and district Farm of the Year by the West Virginia Conservation Agency.

He's a tall, strapping man with a folksy manner and an abiding love for his hometown. He left for several years to work, but the Belle-grown farm boy had to return to his roots.

He supports virtually every civic and charity event in Belle and many in Charleston. He's the go-to guy for people with problems, the inveterate helper-outer.

After all that, he unwinds "out on the hill," laboring on his tree farm and wildlife refuge.

He's 72.

 

"I grew up on Maple Road here in Belle, 11 blocks from this office. Dad was in maintenance at Occidental Chemical. He moved here from Bath County, Va., in 1923 to work for Belle Alkali.

"We had about 10 acres and raised cows and had hogs and raised corn and boarded horses for people. We had to run the cows down. They had bells on them so we could hear them and bring them back to the barn. When they would eat wild onions, the milk would taste like onions.

"One of my jobs was to pull weeds for the hogs after school and to hoe corn, which I hated.

"Belle was a town that was mostly DuPont workers, and people boarded houses out to their friends. In the booming days at DuPont, the town built up pretty fast.

"My family sold the homeplace for about $13,000. Now it's probably worth $1 million. A cousin still lives on an acre of it. All the farm property is still there except for that one acre.

"I always wanted to be a mechanic. My dad bought his first car when I was about 8 or 9. He had to work on it all the time, and I used to hang out with him.

"When I got out of high school, I hung out with people who worked on cars. When I was 17, I bought a '41 Lincoln Zephyr for $75. My first job was with Douglas Produce when I was a senior. I made 33 cents an hour and worked from 1 p.m. to midnight. It took a while to pay for that car.

"I always washed it in the creek. When you're young and stupid, you break ice just to keep a clean ride.

"I worked a couple of different places out of high school then went to work for Walker Machinery. Me and another guy decided we were going to go to college. Cecil Walker, the owner, said he was going to start a second shift so we signed up at Tech for daytime.

"Walker's business dropped off, and they decided not to start the second shift. So we went over to McLean Trucking and started to work on the docks so we could go to school during the day. This was 1960. I got married in '61, to Nancy Lambert, and I was still going to school. McLean shut down and transferred everyone to Cincinnati.

"So I went to Cincinnati and served three years as an apprentice and became a diesel mechanic. We lived in Cincinnati three years. I came back here because I'm an outdoorsman and Cincinnati is not an outdoors place.

"I came back and worked for Occidental and started going to Morris Harvey at night. They hired me to set up the new storeroom and promoted me to purchasing agent and then put me over security. I became director of national affairs for the Tri-State Purchasing Association, and ended up on the executive board.

"I had offers to go different places, but I thought if I ever got back to Belle, I'd like to stay. So I just stayed here and did the best I could.

"I was always very active in the community. My wife tells people I am a professional volunteer. We started the first recycling program in Belle. DuPont, Occidental and Walker Machinery bought bins and racks. The three companies had representatives along with Sally Shepherd, the director of the recycling program. I was on city council at the time. We've been recycling ever since.

"I bought a 40-acre farm at Ansted in 1970. My father was ready to retire. He had lived on a farm and wanted to go back to one. We built a three-bedroom house with materials from buildings that were torn down on the farm.

"I wanted more land. In 1992, I found 181 acres on Blue Creek that Evans Lumber owned. I bought that and bought property around it and ended up with 308 acres. That's what I've been developing for wildlife and forest.

"I call it Chestnut Properties, but I can't really call it that because that's what my cousin Archie's real estate company is. So I usually just say I'm going out on the hill.

"My education was in purchasing, and I had changed hats and knew nothing about it. I started contacting different government agencies to see if they had anything in the way of training.

"The first thing I had to do was get a 10-year plan. I had two choices. I could wait on the state to do a10-year plan, or I could hire a private individual to do it.

"If I hired a private individual from a forestry organization, the government would pay 75 percent of it. It cost $1,300 to have a plan done, but I only had to pay like $300. I could develop property for anything I wanted. I wanted woodlands, water and wildlife -- birds, squirrels, rabbits, grouse, deer, turkey, bear. Everything I did was funneled into making this happen. That's why they selected me as the 2012 Tree Farm of the Year.

"For 18 years, that's what I've been doing. I completed more practices, the things they have you do, than anyone. There's tree removal, crop tree release, border cutback, all terminologies I knew nothing about. It all has to do with preserving the forest, enhancing the growth.

"There are things like doing a small 2-acre clear cut where you cut down all the trees that are not of any value. Then it grows up to vegetation. Grouse and turkey nest in it and deer browse in it.

"When you do a crop tree release, you take this real nice tree and release it by cutting the trees that touch it. That one good tree grows so much faster because the other ones are out of the way. So you are growing a forest.

"I've been working on 308 acres. As much time as I spend out there, if I only worked on 40 acres, I could make it look like a golf course. I go every chance I get.

"I've probably planted 3,000 to 4,000 trees. This year, I planted 200 Norway spruce trees. Last year, I planted 200 blue spruce trees. I have grapes and blackberries, a bluebird house and peach trees. I planted about 200 chestnut trees the first year, and now they are bearing chestnuts everywhere. That's appropriate, don't you think?

"I have a drawing of where I plant everything, what I planted, the year and what I paid for it.

"I was on City Council when we built this community building. I was president, but after 10 years, I decided we needed younger people with new ideas, so I didn't run. Then a guy died, and they asked me come back and serve, and I've been serving ever since. I was appointed mayor after Mayor Conley died. It's been about a year.

"This is my last big hurrah. I like helping people. The best gift I can give anyone is my help and service. I'm out there with the people. I dance with them on Thursday nights. We have a free blue grass jamboree here at Town Hall.

"I feel good about things that have happened here in town. We're utilizing this facility. During the winter, it's booked with activities every night. I'm also president of Kanawha Valley Senior Citizens.

"The only thing I regret is that I wasn't born rich. If I were rich, I probably would have helped every person in the world. I enjoy giving more than receiving.

"I'm starting to lose my hearing. I wear two hearing aids. In a room filled with people, I don't hear what's being said and miss out. So I can't be as active as I used to be. But I can still work.

"As far as I'm concerned, a good vacation is out on the hill. My wife says, 'Why would you go out there in 95-degree weather?' I just know our family was put here to work. My father was one of the hardest workers I knew.

"I love going out there and doing things. I have pushed papers all my life in my job. When I do something out there, I can see it happen -- my apple tree growing, my squash and cucumbers, apples and grapes. A cucumber will grow so fast, you can almost stand there and watch it."

Reach Sandy Wells at sandyw@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.


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