The story of the American chestnut tree has a quintessential American ring to it. A tree that once blanketed the eastern United States is nearly wiped out by blight — but not completely. Conservationists see hope and an opportunity in one detail — the shoots of the tree are not affected — and there the comeback story begins.

Today, that story also includes Georgia-Pacific, an Atlanta-based company that joined forces with the American Chestnut Foundation to revive the native trees. Together, they planted 560 saplings at Georgia-Pacific’s Big Island mill in Virginia.

It will take years to know how the story ends — the lifespan of an American chestnut is typically 75 to 100 years — but it’s a good start.

"The plantings represent a conservation success story and reflect the power that alliances can have in bringing a 'mighty giant' back to its native range. Thanks to our support from Georgia-Pacific, we are making critical progress in restoring the American chestnut," said Bryan Burhans, president and CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation.

The saplings in Virginia are the result of 25 years of genetic work. Scientists crossed the American chestnut with the disease-resistant Chinese chestnut to give the American icon a chance at survival. These particular saplings are 15/16 American chestnut and are expected to have American chestnut attributes while retaining the blight resistance of the Chinese tree.

The Big Island mill has made a 20-year commitment to maintain the plot where American Chestnut Foundation can monitor the saplings in a natural setting.

The sapling planting is separated into groups representing slight genetic variations, with the idea that over 20 years, conservations will know if one genetic mix is better than the others. In addition, the plot is protected by an eight-foot fence — an effort to deter hungry deer.

"This re-establishment of the American chestnut aligns well with our commitments to being good stewards of the environment and enhancing the sustainability of Virginia's forests," said Eldon Brammer, vice president of the Big Island mill. "We at Georgia-Pacific Big Island feel fortunate to be able to help in some small way and be a part of this historic effort."

Georgia-Pacific is one of the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of building products, tissue, packaging, paper, cellulose and related chemicals, and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, a privately owned company headquartered in Wichita, Kan.

Comeback story: American chestnut gets a fresh start