Stadium Woods resembled a crime scene this past week, with yellow tape strung between the trees and cop cars on the scene.
During a protest on Friday, Oct. 12, before Saturday’s home football game, Friends of Stadium Woods director Rebekah Paulson and four others, including a student, were arrested for disorderly conduct.
They were there protesting Tech football players parking in the woods, which they claim damages the growth of the trees.
Major Kevin Foust of the Virginia Tech Police Department defined disorderly conduct as “disrupting the lawful activities of others.” The group was asked to cease and desist and did not.
“What we’ve done this morning is we’ve used flagging tape to mark off some of the root zones of the biggest trees, which are 400 years old, which is why we’re calling this Occupy 400,” Paulson said Friday morning before being arrested.
The peaceful demonstration, Occupy 400, included about eight other protestors. The small group sat around on lawn chairs and blankets until players showed up to begin parking. At that time they tried to keep individuals from parking, and were subsequently arrested.
Despite the arrests, Major Foust said the protest was peaceful.
“The folks we met with could not have been any more cooperative or cordial,” Foust said. “They were a pleasure to deal with.”
In an email sent out Friday morning, Friends of Stadium woods said they would “OUTLINE and OCCUPY the root zones of the 400 year old trees today to protect them from the parking abuse and root compaction mandated by the Tech Athletic Department, sanctioned by facilities and parking services, and authorized by senior administrators.”
Kara Dodson, a fifth year undergraduate Resource Management major who attended the demonstration, thought it was important to come and show her support for the woods.
“We’re just occupying the space to protect the tree root zones, and just have the message that the administration should make this forest a priority and protect it and not allow it to be a parking lot,” Dodson said.
During the last home game against Bowling Green, Friends of Stadium Woods passed out flyers to football players as they parked for the game.
The group explained to the players what root destruction and soil compaction were and how it impacted the growth of the trees.
“One guy said ‘I got your back.’ And they’re just really nice, student to student....We’re on the same level here, we can work it out,” Dodson said.
Friends of Stadium Woods said that as long as the university finds someplace else for players to park their cars, they won’t protest the next home game against Florida State on Nov. 8. However, according to the administration that seems unlikely.
“At the current time, we do not believe that parking cars in the proximity of Stadium Wood as we currently allow only about six times per year creates a compaction problem for the trees,” said Larry Hincker, associate vice president of University Relations, in a statement on Monday.
In response to Hincker’s statement, Paulson encouraged the University to look deeper into the damage that is being done.
“He should ask his own forestry professors in the College of Natural Resources and Environment if it hurts the tree roots. They’ll give him the real answer,” Paulson said.
According to Susan Day, assistant professor in the urban forestry department, parking on the roots for even a short period of time can damage the trees’ root systems, ultimately stopping their growth and killing them.
The five arrestees ranged from ages 29 to 75. Paulson stated that the group plans on fighting these charges.
“We definitely got our point across and we have wide community support,” Paulson said, “including two families that are very large donors to the athletic program and Virginia Tech.”
For several years, football players have been parking in StadiumZ Woods on top of the roots of the trees. The area has been in the public eye since last year when the athletics department proposed the 14-acre site of old-growth woods as the location for a new football training practice facility. After public outcry, largely organized by Friends of Stadium Woods, the university formed an advisory committee.
Even though the University denied the location for a training facility, the woods still remain unprotected or preserved despite a recommendation from the advisory committee that the University permanently protect the area.
Friends of Stadium Woods has gone through several different venues to get the woods protected, ranging from writing letters to the Governor’s office to appealing directly to the administration and various University offices.
The group is working to see what action they might take before the next football game.
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