Berry College’s proposed stadium, Valhalla, is being relocated out of respect for the nesting site of Georgia’s most famous pair of bald eagles, college officials announced on Wednesday.
Officials anticipate that construction on the stadium will begin this fall and be completed by the 2015-16 academic year. Valhalla will be home to the Berry Viking football, lacrosse and track and field programs.
Berry’s bald eagles have become a nation-wide phenomenon. Two cameras send streaming video and have garnered more than 17 million views. Almost 60,000 “friends” belong to the Berry College Eagles Facebook page, making frequent comments, posting photos and keeping up with the latest eagle activities. Schoolchildren in classrooms around the world have watched the eagles daily since mid-winter.
The college had planned to build the stadium close to the Steven J. Cage Athletic and Recreation Center with convenient parking and access to the campus entrance. In the spring of 2012, the bald eagle couple chose to build their nest in a tall pine tree just off the major parking lot. Given the very public location of the nest, officials were not sure whether the eagles would return and actually use the nest. But they returned in fall 2012 and successfully produced two eaglets in 2013. A third eaglet hatched in February 2014 and took its inaugural flight this past week.
Given the unusual location of the nest, the college applied for a permit from the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service, agreeing to shift the stadium to the south, provide additional plantings to serve as buffers and limit construction to the summer and early fall months when the nest was not in use. This spring, however, Berry officials had second thoughts.
“Everywhere we went, people were in awe of the eagles and grateful that we had set up the streaming video,” said Steve Briggs, Berry’s president. “The eagles are mesmerizing—better than any reality television show. And the truth is—we are entranced by them as well.”
The new site for Valhalla is a pasture to the south of Maple Drive, the service entrance to the college’s main campus. This location provides access to the Cage Center parking lots for use by fans as well as access for athletes coming from Richards Gym, home to lacrosse and football offices and training facilities. Maple Drive, which was damaged during a windstorm in 2011, will be widened as part of the project and a grass field will be added for track-and-field throwing events.
More than 80 percent of the funds for the estimated $6.9 million project have been secured with the remainder to be raised in coming months.
“Generous donors are making this facility possible, and we are ready to begin preliminary site work this summer,” said Brian Erb, vice president of finance. “Relocating the stadium requires re-working the site engineering plans and construction documents but this location will simplify the construction schedule and minimize interference with campus activities.” This location also gives the eagles a wide berth.
“We didn’t see the eagles coming,” said Mr. Briggs. “But they certainly knew what they were looking for in a college. It would be difficult to find a more fitting home for a pair of nesting bald eagles than Berry’s amazing campus. The eagles epitomize this place— both its uncommon beauty and its educational opportunity.”
With the world’s largest campus of 27,000 acres, the residential liberal arts college also provides a natural laboratory for studying animals and the environment.