Of Football and Forests

 Howdy all – I’ve been on vacation and then inundated by all that accumulates whilst on said holiday. Here’s a whopper of a belated post. What follows is an account of events you may find interesting (or amusing, or frustrating).

Here’s a portion of a recent press release from the media office at Virginia Tech, regarding our making the "Green Honor Roll."

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 25, 2012 – For the third consecutive year, Virginia Tech ranks among the most environmentally responsible colleges in the United States and Canada, according to the Princeton Review, receiving the highest possible score given by the organization.

The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2012 Edition, released April 17, profiles institutions of higher education that demonstrate a notable commitment to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities, and career preparation. The Princeton Review, in collaboration with the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, evaluates colleges and universities and assigns a numerical score on a scale of 60 to 99. 

Virginia Tech received a score of 99, earning the distinction as one of 16 colleges to be named to the Princeton Review’s 2012 Green Rating Honor Roll

“Virginia Tech continues to be totally committed to campus sustainability," said Denny Cochrane, Virginia Tech’s sustainability program manager. "Our inclusion on the Green Rating Honor Roll shows how wide spread the commitment is among out students, faculty, staff, alumni, and university leadership."


The story of “Stadium Woods” is interesting and complex.  Virginia Tech Athletics announced the construction of an indoor practice facility for football on part of an 11-acre wooded site, behind Lane Stadium and abutting the current practice field (hence “stadium woods”).  The campus Landscape Architect brought it up at a meeting with the campus Arboretum Committee, who were not thrilled. Virginia Tech has followed a plan of very concentrated/intense land use to keep everything within walking/running distance for the students, and this was one of the few wooded areas left.

The committee proposed an alternative site a few hundred yards away, with the new facility replacing some tennis courts and a roller-hockey rink. 

This suggestion was not met with great enthusiasm by the Athletics department.

Two possible sites for indoor practice facility, adjacent to practice field where 200-300 year old trees are, or along Washington Street on top of some tennis courts (also possibly 200 years old).

At that point, an immense hoo-ha began that would stretch over a year.  I’m going to leave out the ensuing committee/administrator/athletics blow-by-blow, but in a nutshell, some of the Forestry faculty determined this was not just “woods” but a rare stand of old-growth forest, and the Athletics folks were insistent “this is absolutely the best place for the facility!”   Football is huge at Virginia Tech, thus anything described as giving an edge in recruiting gets maximum priority.  In the event of a thunderstorm, having the student-athletes run an additional 150 yards from the practice field to the alternative indoor facility location was just not acceptable. Other issues included digging up a ton of infrastructure (steam lines, electric, etc.) that runs along the road, plus the height of the proposed building does not conform to the campus Master Plan (since it’s for football, it has to be be tall enough to kick a field goal in. We really do need a lot of practice at that.) Guesstimates are around $1million increase to account for the infrastructure issue (added to the $15 million estimate for construction).

A community group “Save Stadium Woods” was formed, complete with a (very nice) website and a letter-writing campaign to the local newspaper. There were petitions, resolutions from everybody and their mother, and more.  The local coverage was intense plus there was a letter to the editor in nearly every newspaper issue for the past three months. CNN even covered the story, which was great, as no campus shootings were involved for the first time in a
while.  One of the 300+ year old white oaks was named “Stephen Colbert” in an effort to raise awareness (?!?).  

An ad-hoc committee of university administrators, both Athletics and non-, plus interested parties from both the faculty and the community was charged by the President to come up with a solution. 

And of course, a third-party consultant was brought in, because we apparently don’t have enough smart people here on campus.

Yes, quite the head-scratcher… place the building and site footprint on top of 3 acres of steeply-sloped, old-growth forest? Or remove some aging and underused tennis courts, which could be relocated to the intramural athletics area on the fringe of campus. Yet Athletics continued to argue, and University administration was silent.

The committee weighed in a week ago, coming to the logical conclusion of protecting the woods and utilizing the tennis court site.  I guess the weirdest part of this is that something so no-brainer-ish was allowed to drag on and on, giving our beloved Virginia Tech and so-called “Green University” (complete with TreeCampus USA designation) a black eye. 

10 thoughts on “Of Football and Forests”

  1. Holly, thank you for this update, as a Tech Forestry Alum, I was much bothered about this. Its good theat cooler heads prevailed. In this case Beamer shoulda known better to begin with.

  2. Thanks for the insight. I wish I could say it could never happen here, but I think it could happen anywhere.

  3. I forgot to mention there was also a “Save the Tennis Courts and Roller Hockey Rink” group, website, and petition. NIMBY, indeed!

  4. It seems athletic departments have it in for heritage oaks everywhere. A few years ago a similar mess happened here in Berkeley at UCB with students and activist occupying the trees to try and save them… unfortunately the oaks fell and the sports center expanded. I know that a lot of residents are still angry and several of my Alumni customers stopped funding the school… I think there is something primal about ancient oaks that brings out the druids in all of us… I am glad to see Virgina Tech is more enlightened and progressive on land use then Berkeley is!

  5. Great article! I would like to clarify a few points. First, the VT Arboretum Committee didn’t suggest the tennis courts as the alternate site. The tennis courts were ALWAYS the location for the training facility as laid out in the VT University master plan. Athletics simple “suggested”(word actually used in the report) to VT facilities that the woods would be better for them and the building site was changed. Second, new intramural facilities are also planned and shown in the university master plan. Third and most important, the issue is not over. The president’s office has not announced they are accepting any of the five recommnedations outlined in the report. The president has made it clear the recommendations are “not binding”. So officially all that has happened is one more group ( the committee charged with evaluating where to put the facility) has been added to the huge list of groups in favor of preserving the woods.

  6. I knew I couldn’t cover all the details, hence my disclaimer. Just trying to explain in broad strokes. And I didn’t say it was over, either.

  7. Thanks Holly for a great article & thanks John for the important clarifications. The woods are NOT safe and won’t be until the VT administration makes an announcement indicating that the woods will be preserved in a conservation easement, and that will only be the beginning of our work if indeed they agree to preserve ALL the woods. Alumni and others please write to President Steger and sign the ipetition. The easiest way to send an email letter is to link via our website savestadiumwoods.com to The VA Sierra Club to utilize their “take action” alert. This allows you to quickly send an email to President Steger, BOV Rector George Nolen and VA Gov. McDonnell. You may also link to the ipetition via our website. All the latest info is also available there or on our FB page. We will need everyone’s continued support. Thanks so much. Rebekah Paulson, Ex.Director, The Friends of Stadium Woods

  8. I suppose there is some dolt that sees the trees as non revenue generating hence cut them down and put something there that helps generate revenue. How short sighted.

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