Stadium Woods is no longer on the chopping block.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger announced Stadium Woods will not be considered as a location for the planned football practice facility last Tuesday, following a recommendation from Sherwood Wilson, the vice president for administrative services.
The announcement marks the end of a nearly nine-month controversy regarding the future of the 14-acre old-growth forest. The woods contain as many as 59 white oaks estimated to be older than 300 years.
Wilson's recommendation that the university consider other possible locations came after an official report was released by the Athletic Practice Facility Site Evaluation Committee at the end of May. The committee was formed by President Steger in January and tasked with helping to decide whether to build the proposed 2.1 acre practice facility in Stadium Woods.
Kyle Gardiner was the SGA's Director of Sustainability during much of the debate surrounding Stadium Woods last year. He first found out the news via Twitter, where a friend had shared the story.
“It's fantastic. I think the critical thing for the moment is they're saved,” Gardiner said, “But we have to remember (Sherwood Wilson) didn't provide any recommendation to preserve stadium woods for all time.”
Wilson's memo to Steger strongly supported the findings of the committee, with one exception: it did not recommend designating the woods as an old growth reserve or another form of long-term protection.
“While this might the prudent action to take today,” Wilson wrote in the memo, “these designations are permanent and we do not want to restrict the ability of future leaders to manage the physical campus 100 years from now.”
Friends of Stadium Woods, a group that played a pivotal role in mobilizing the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech communities in support of the forest, expressed a sense of muted victory in a statement it released after the announcement. The statement added that the group would continue to “advocate for the permanent preservation” of the woods and that the university was tarnishing its “green reputation.”
Sarah Gugercin is a research associate in the Horticulture Department and became active in the group last spring.
“I know there are a lot of options for protecting areas and some may be more or less favorable to the university in terms of future flexibility in planning,” Gugercin said. “But, I think that some sort of management plan needs to happen for this area.”
University Spokesman Larry Hincker confirms that the university doesn't have a timeline on how to proceed from here.
As for where the football facility will end up being built, the committee's report does suggest a variety of orientations on Washington Street next to the basketball practice facility, where tennis courts and a roller hockey rink now stand.
Friends of Stadium Woods refers to this area as the “original location” intended for the athletic facility by the Virginia Tech Master Plan.
Hincker denies this claim, saying the Master Plan had suggested the space be used for any athletic facility, but not specifically football. Instead, the athletics department built the Hahn Hurst Basketball Practice Facility on that location in 2009.
“To say that the university changed its mind, it really misunderstands the nature of the Master Plan,” Hincker said. “The Master Plan is a rough guide, it doesn't say exactly what the facility is and how it is going to be.”
If the university continues to follow the committee's recommendations and considers the Washington Street location they may find themselves faced with other opposition.
Cory Bernhards is a doctoral student at Tech, and an adviser for the roller hockey leagues that use the rink all year round.
The current roller hockey rink is newly built, replaced three and a half years after being torn down for the basketball facility.
“Given all the pressure that was forced upon them with that Stadium Woods campaign, I've been preparing for it,” said Bernhards, “Now we know for sure that we need to do something about it.”
Wilson's memo does note the tennis courts and roller hockey rink, saying that planning staff will take them into consideration. APFSEC's report recommends that construction is “completed or at least initiated” before the current facilities are shut down for construction.
Regardless of what happens in the future, Gugercin will remember the battle for Stadium Woods as proof that students do have an impact on the school.