When spring comes to the Northern Virginia suburbs, some Falls Church High School students like to walk outside and sit in the groves of oak and hickory trees that have surrounded the school for years.

When spring comes this year, the students will be there again. But most of the trees will be gone.

The woods, described yesterday by school principal James Wilson as "the most beautiful (school) setting in the county," began to disappear two days ago when a yellow bulldozer started clearing the land for a housing development near the school.

That upset some students, and yesterday about a dozen of them held a brief protest at the site.

"The trees have been here forever," said Midge Salisbury, leader of the small student group called "Save the Trees."

"They're the only thing that set us back from the street (four-lane Arlington Boulevard). They're beautiful in springtime... It makes you feel close to nature."

"When we get older," added 16-year-old junior Terry Koth, "there are not going to be any trees left. We'll have to tell our kids what they looked like."

But Bill Plank, an official of Wills and Plank, developer of the 91 single-family homes going up on the site with county approval, had a different point of view.

"We hear this all the time," he said of the students' concerns. "If you want to keep the trees, buy the land... It (the development) has been approved. We own the land. We have a right to clear it."

The area is part of the 185-acre Chiles tract, one of the few heavily wooded areas still remaining in a section of Fairfax that has been heavily urbanized.

Nearby residents fought to preserve the Chiles tract as a park, and the Fairfax master plan raised the possibility of the county purchasing the land and building a new governmental center on it and preserving part as open space.

But the tract remains in private hands, and there are plans for all of it to be developed.

The student group took their concerns to the school administration yesterday, and talked with officials in the county's planning and zoning offices.They plan to arrange a meeting with Supervisor James Scott, in whose district the school and the property are located.

Scott told a reporter yesterday the developer is "perfectly within his rights. It's private property. We can't keep a developer from cutting down the trees."

Said student leader Salisbury: "We're determined to try."