Sunday, June 03, 2012
Editorial: Stadium Woods is priceless
From the RoundTable blog
Read the latest entries
Last year, Stadium Woods crashed into the public consciousness. Fans of the old-growth forest behind Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium rallied to protect the trees, some of which are older than the United States.
Since then, people who want to cut down some of the woods to make way for an indoor football training facility have remained mostly silent. They held no counter protests to rallies and events in support of preserving the woods. To our knowledge, only the editorial writers at The Collegiate Times, Tech's student newspaper, made a significant public argument in favor of axes and chainsaws.
Administrators and the board of visitors will have the final say on whether Stadium Woods survives as is. We urge them to put the training facility elsewhere.
Depending on whom one asks and how one measures, the woods cover 11to 15 acres. The most recent measure stands at 13.75 acres, including the surrounding trails and Corps of Cadets training areas. The figure was included in an ecological assessment commissioned by Tech and carried out by BiohabitsInc. The school released it after a Freedom of Information request from The Roanoke Times.
Also depending on whom you ask, building the football training facility would take out three to five acres of the woods. Biohabits pegged it at three.
However one counts, a significant portion of the woods would fall.
The ecological assessment went to great lengths to pin dollar amounts on the value of the woods. It calculated the ecological value at a bit more than $5 million. Removing three acres would reduce the value by more than $1million.
Those figures incorporated factors such as habitat for plants and animals as well as carbon sequestration of the trees. The data is interesting in a sanitized sort of way, but decision-makers must not get hung up on dollar amounts. The value of the woods cannot be measured that way.
Stadium Woods is a special tract on a land-grant campus that over time has been covered with concrete and asphalt. It is a remnant of the ancient landscape that once covered the hills of Southwest Virginia. Students and faculty wander those woods to find a moment of calm. Classes meet there to explore an outdoor, living laboratory. Town residents enjoy its buffer between campus and community. Runners and walkers use its trails to keep fit.
There is no dollar figure suitable to measure such things. The cost of losing them is immeasurable.
It would be one thing if the woods were the only suitable location, but there are others. The campus master plan calls for placing the facility on nearby tennis courts. There are also abundant parking lots. We dare not suggest the school abandon the facility entirely. Hokies love football, and Tech will keep up with its rivals in the recruiting arms race. Yet Tech is more than a venue for football games.
The national Arbor Day Foundation this year again named Tech a Tree Campus USA. The Princeton Review gave the school its top rating in its 2012 Green College Honor Roll, a title shared with only 15 other schools nationwide. Sacrificing Stadium Woods on the altar of football hardly would fit with those titles.
Tech President Charles Steger assembled an ad hoc committee to investigate all of the issues and make a recommendation. It has done so, but as of this writing, university officials have kept the committee's work secret. The recommendation might contain some grand revelation that fundamentally changes the debate, but we cannot imagine what.
Barring that, Tech should break ground elsewhere. Stadium Woods is an irreplaceable resource, at least in a human lifetime.