That core sample in January was proof that some white oaks in the woods were ancient, older than the United States, possibly dating back to around the founding of Jamestown, growing long before George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were born.
“This is so stinking rare,” he said. “We might have the single largest collection of old-growth white oak left in the eastern United States. This type of forest once covered Virginia. This is what you now have left. This could stay here in theory forever.”
And yet, in spite of this find, the athletic department is determined to press ahead with a plan to destroy a quarter of the forest: about 140 trees, including six to eight great white oaks, some of which are estimated to be more than 300 years old and capable of growing another three centuries.
“The only area is the Stadium Woods,” Jim Weaver, the director of athletics, said last week. “We haven’t gotten into alternative sites because there are very few locations that would work as they would work here.”
Those are fighting words to some in Hokie nation — about 29,000 students and 15,000 residents in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech was named Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation three times.
It’s a match-up of a forest versus football, an economic powerhouse that garnered $40 million in revenue last year. The Hokies are a solid football team, runners-up for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. But their record against top five opponents is a dismal 1-27.
A new indoor practice facility is key to luring top high school recruits to a team that wants to finally win a national championship. Other schools in the ACC are selling recruits partly on indoor practice facilities right alongside their fields. Duke opened its indoor facility last year; University of Virginia is planning one and most important, a facility for major rival Florida State is scheduled for completion this year. Seminole head football coach Jimbo Fisher said the indoor facility will attract elite athletes to the university because of its capacity for year-round workouts, according to a Seminole Boosters news release.
But as far as forest lovers are concerned, the fact that President Charles W. Steger is even considering the plan means that Virginia Tech is backsliding on its pledge to value environmental sustainability and stewardship. Under a 2006 master plan, the woods were designated as a green space that was off limits to development.