- After petition, Virginia Tech to seek alternative location for state-of-art sports facility
- Many trees in the growth forest are more than 150 years old, others possibly 300
- Conservation group disappointed university would not protect forest permanently
- "Back to the drawing board": School to consider other potential sites for building
Virginia Tech has accepted a committee's recommendation not to build an indoor sports-training facility in the area known as the stadium woods -- a densely wooded area behind the Blacksburg football stadium.
Earlier this year, environmentalists became enraged when they were informed of the university's plan to build a state-of-the-art practice facility in the old-growth forest, where some of the trees are 150 to more than 300 years old.
The blueprint had called for at least 60 trees to be cut down for the facility.
Virginia Tech Forestry professor John Seiler explained the significance of the old-growth trees to CNN while tracing a tree sample in his office earlier this summer.
"That's the walk on the moon, World War II, World War I. Here's Virginia Tech, founded shortly after the Civil War," he said, pointing to the rings on a strip of trunk from one of the 11-acre woods' elderly residents.
Seiler and others quickly formed the organization, Friends of Stadium Woods, and an online petition was launched to sway the university and athletic department. The petition was signed by more than 10,000 people nationwide.
Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger got wind of the controversy and appointed a 15-person committee in January to make a recommendation on whether the facility should be built at the stadium woods location or somewhere else.
The committee deliberated for months, surveying students, faculty and staff. They received more than 500 e-mails from the public with varying opinions.
In early June, the committee handed their recommendations to the school's Board of Visitors. Committee Chair John Randolph said it was "in the university's best interest" to build the facility at a different location.
The determining factor ended up being the "social importance" of the stadium woods, Randolph said.
In the end, Sherwood Wilson, Virginia Tech's vice president of administrative services, recommended to Steger that the university accept the committee's recommendation.
Wilson further directed his staff to "evaluate other potential sites." Steger accepted Wilson's recommendation and, according to university spokesman Larry Hincker, they are now "going back to the drawing board."
Friends of Stadium Woods released a statement saying they were "pleased" the university had accepted the committee's recommendation.
However, the statement said, the group had hoped the university would preserve the woods with a conservation easement, which would permanently prevent any development on the land.
According to a university statement, the school doesn't plan to "place the woods in a conservation easement or give a special designation to the property."
Hincker said it would not be in the best interest for the university's "long-range planning" because it would "tie future generations to something that (university officials) really haven't had an opportunity to analyze."
The office of university architect will now be tasked with finding another location for the sports-training facility. In the meantime, the university will continue to raise money to fund the project.