In regards to the need for expansion of Virginia Tech’s athletic facilities, I believe this need is no greater than the need for the preservation of the last expanse of healthy, functioning forest on campus.
I attended Tech from 2002-2007 and graduated with a natural resources conservation degree. I worked as lab manager and photographer for the Collegiate Times student newspaper, played 4 years with the men’s club lacrosse team and spent two years as president of the Natural Resources Recreation Society. As an alumnus of the University, with many friends still in Blacksburg today, I ask you to hear my story about my experience with these woods.
While I sometimes struggled in lecture-style courses during my years at Tech, I always learned best when the curriculum involved “hands on” learning.
When I entered the College of Natural Resources I began taking lab courses that involved exploring the parks and forests both on and off campus. The Stadium Woods was one of the most frequently visited locations during my semester studying Dendrology.
John Seiler is a passionate teacher who loves trees. He provoked us to feel the texture of a tree’s leaf, sample a black cherry twig on the tongue, or smell the sweet fragrance of a freshly crushed sassafrass leaf. I found this multi-sensory way of learning to be quite exilharating. Seiler would point to a tree, “Quiz number one. I need the common name, genus, and species.” My classmates and I would dig around the base of the tree for fallen fruits, sample twigs for a closer look and peer upwards at the leaves looking for clues.
I remember poison ivy, toxicodendron radicans, was on the ID list the first week of class. For obvious reasons, they wanted us to learn this one so that we could walk the forest more carefully in the coming weeks.
Well it turned out one of my classmates wasn’t paying attention that day, so when the quiz came the following week he pulled a twig from the toxic vine and popped it in his mouth for a taste. A few days later his swollen lips matched the color of the ink on his quiz sheet. He learned this one the hard way.
Once, a quiz was presented as a medium-sized tree in the middle story of the Stadium Woods. Everyone knew it was a type of Hickory, but most of us still needed a closer look at the twig to define its species. And the tree was about 15 feet tall, so the leaves were just out of reach.
It turned into a group effort, and after a human pyramid was established, a determined Derek Sokolowski ascended and shimmied up the pole to grab a slender twig for proper identification.
“Carya Ovata!” we all silently nodded so as not to spill the answer. It was time for the inevitable bad joke from Mr. Peterson. He pointed to a stump, which had been chainsawed flush with the ground. Yes, we were supposed to identify a tree that was not there.
All we could see was the purplish bark. This was the only clue that was supposed to hint at the Eastern Hemlock. Then it came from Peterson: “Have you been stumped?” Slightly annoyed at both the difficult quiz and the bad joke the class responded “BOOOOO.” While dendrology was the first class that got me out into the Stadium Woods, many more were to follow. Eric Wiseman led our urban forestry class up to the corner of the lot one day to assess the health of a large White Oak across from the Cranwell International Center. An assignment in my computer applications for natural resources involved a geographic information system project, which required us to plot out a digital map of the wooded area.
Our forest measurements and management classes both required us to practice inventorying forest resources in the forest behind Lane Stadium. And just when I thought identifying trees was tough, I enrolled in an ornithology class.
While dendrology required us to identify still plants, ornithology required us to identify moving targets. We spent Wednesday mornings with binoculars and eyeballs pointed upwards at the towering trees of this great bird sanctuary.
Many of these classes took our students on field trips to woods often and nature preserves off campus.
Although I am glad to say that college funds made these trips possible, access to the Stadium Woods is the most convenient location for the outdoor classroom experience. Potential budget cuts would certainly rule out expensive field trips and gasoline tabs.
Let us preserve Stadium Woods as it has always been. A place of growth and education.