Walking across campus on a blustery February morning is a bad start to any day, but is the Drillfield actually a downer?
Central to Virginia Tech’s campus, the Drillfield visibly lowers in elevation as one walks from War Memorial Hall at its southern end to Burruss Hall, at its northern end. Rumors have long circulated that the open space of grass is sinking, claiming the bowl-like depression as proof.
Students explained the Drillfield depression in different ways. One student said she heard it was sinking because of the number of pushups done by the Corp of Cadets, while others said that they heard about the mysterious sink during orientation.
“I heard it sinks around an inch a year,” said senior computer science major Derek Ong. “I think I even heard that in a freshman tour.”
Although the Drillfield is clearly lower in elevation than the surrounding land, Tess Thompson, an associate professor of biological systems engineering, put down the rapid sinking rumors.
“If it were sinking an inch a year, there'd be repercussions for all of the infrastructure on the Drillfield: the light poles, the sidewalks, etc.” said Thompson. “You'd see it.”
Some claim that a stream runs beneath the Drillfield and is the source of the sink. Thompson explained they’re partially correct; a waterway, Stroubles Creek, does runs underneath the Drillfield and downtown Blacksburg.
A tributary of the New River, the headwaters of Stroubles Creek originate in the northwestern part of Blacksburg and flow to the southwest. The Creek is formed of two streams, the Web Branch and the Central Branch. The former flows under the Derring Lot and opens up at the intersection of West Campus Drive and Duck Pond Drive.
The Central Branch of Stroubles Creek now runs underneath the southern side of the Drillfield, somewhat parallel to War Memorial Hall. In 1934, the waterway was enclosed in a three-sided culvert, measuring eight feet high and four and a half feet wide. Now, all that remains of the Central Branch is a line of manholes on the Drillfield and an opening beneath a bridge leading to the Duck Pond.
The bottomless “pipe” retains the natural streambead, said Thompson, who is a researcher for the Center for Watershed Studies.
“It allows interaction between the stream and groundwater and also allows bed sediment to move,” Thompson said.
The presence of Stroubles beneath the Drillfield has fostered claims that the waterway is responsible for the Drillfield’s sinking. However, W. Cully Hession, professor of biological systems engineering, said that if this were true, the dip would look distinctly different.
“Where the stream is buried — because it's got a concrete structure around it — would probably end up being higher than the rest of the Drillfield (if it were sinking), but it's not,” said Hession.
Because Stroubles only runs on one side of the Drillfield, it could only cause that one side to lower rather than cause a large valley like what is present.