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Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times 5/31/2012 Lane Stadium, center, and existing outdoor football practice fields as seen through an opening in Stadium Woods on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg Virginia Thursday. A report commissioned by Virginia Tech officials has put the ecological value of the woods at just more than $5 million. The report is a possible topic of discussion for university President Charles Steger and the school’s board of visitors, which will meet in Blacksburg on Sunday and Monday.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
In the end, the old white oak trees in the woods near Lane Stadium stood taller than any defensive line against the march of Virginia Tech’s football team.
A Virginia Tech Board of Visitors subcommittee last week approved a location for a new indoor football practice facility, sparing the 14 acres of old-growth forest known as Stadium Woods.
The subcommittee’s Monday vote largely resolved the debate that erupted around an initial plan to build the facility on about 3 acres of the wooded area.
After Tech President Charles Steger’s intervention, the athletic department and facilities department settled on an alternate location on a portion of the existing outdoor practice fields adjacent to the stadium.
The resolution pleased the chairman of the university’s arboretum committee and the athletic department, which can proceed with plans for a $17 million practice facility that will be used primarily by Tech’s football program.
Steger’s involvement eased a tense confrontation that pitted the athletic department’s designs against professors, students and other advocates who wanted the woods and its dozens of centuries-old white oaks protected.
Advocates for protecting the woods staged rallies, and five were arrested in a demonstration last year. Steger appointed an inclusive committee, which recommended building the facility outside the wooded area.
Parties on both sides didn’t get all they wanted at the outset.
The athletic department had to find an alternate site for the practice facility.
The location happens to be more appropriate and suitable than a site which would have been carved out of the forest area.
Many advocates of preserving the woods remain unsatisfied, demanding that the university place permanent restrictions on future uses of the area. The university is unwilling to take that step at this point.
The wooded area wedged between Lane Stadium and Blacksburg’s Houston-Harrell Street neighborhood is a valuable natural resource.
A Tech-commissioned study produced last year estimated the area’s ecological value at more than $5 million. As Tech forestry professor John Seiler has noted, the old-growth area is one of the rarest forest communities in the eastern United States and is used by several classes as a living laboratory. It is an asset worthy of protection.
The ad hoc committee appointed by Steger recommended that the area be managed as an old-growth reserve, and some advocates want a permanent conservation easement placed on the land.
The Tech administration determined that future university leaders should not be bound by permanent restrictions on the property.
As we’ve noted before, a longer-term discussion about the future of Stadium Woods is still in order.
It should be an inclusive process that results in a plan that provides reasonable protections for the woods without binding future generations of university leaders.
The process used to resolve the dispute over the practice facility would be a good model for Tech’s leaders to follow.
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