Whitesburg KY
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Late Kingdom Come principal organized first Chestnut Festival

If former Kingdom Come Elementary School Principal Betty Caudill were alive today she would be beaming with pride when the fifth Linefork-Kingdom Come Chestnut Festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, marking the first community event held at the new Linefork-Kingdom Come Community Center.

When Mrs. Caudill was principal of the Kingdom Come school she encouraged students to get out in the community and learn about the past.

“When Mrs. Caudill found out the American Chestnut tree can be restored to the Appalachian forests, she seized upon the restoration initiative as an opportunity to connect her students with their community,” said Bob Cornett .

Cornett said Mrs. Caudill and the school took a lead role in starting a festival in 2004 to celebrate the return of the American Chestnut tree.

“One important project that Mrs. Caudill initiated was for members of the (Gordon) Volunteer Fire Department to take a few students at a time to interview some of the elderly people who remembered the Chestnut before the blight came,” said Cornett, a Georgetown resident who has relatives in the Linefork area and has helped with the Chestnut restoration project. “This project worked well, and videotapes of the interviews are treasured parts of the community’s archives.”

Students at Kingdom Come even composed a song to welcome back the American Chestnut trees. The school closed at the end of the 2006-2007 school year with an enrollment of less than 100 students, not too long after Mrs. Caudill died of a long illness.

“Mrs. Caudill developed terminal cancer,” said Cornett. “She worked bravely for as long as she could. Shortly after her death the school was closed.”

Workshops focusing on bringing the American Chestnut tree back to Appalachia and guided tours to surviving American Chestnut trees will be conducted during the Oct. 17 festival.

Bluegrass music will begin at the community center at 5 p.m.

Cornett said the Linefork-Kingdom Come Chestnut Festival is attracting interest from far beyond the local community.

“Many of these interested people are educators who see the learning value that comes from the children working as partners with adults to accomplish something of lasting value to the community,” said Cornett. “Other interested people are foresters who realize that sound and sustainable forestry practices can be achieved when the communities view the forests, not just as sources of timber to cut and sell, but as contributors to clean water and air, as sequesters of carbon, as sources of food for people and wildlife and as sources of sustainable energy. Not to mention as places of serene beauty.”

Cornett said the new community center is attracting interest because it is showing how a mountain community can use its own assets to strengthen itself.

“In addition to forestry, the community is developing plans for a number of other initiatives including a set of activities related to health,” said Cornett. “Planning has started for volunteers to assist older people to stay in their homes, avoiding nursing homes and potentially saving lots of money.”

Cornett said it is important for the Chestnut festival that Caudill started five years ago to continue.

“This event celebrates the return of the Chestnut and it also celebrates the legacy of the Kingdom Come School and of the community,” said Cornett .

“There really is something precious going on in Linefork,” he added.

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