Editorial: Saving the chimney swifts of Sara Cree

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(THE PICKET) – As Shepherd University works to execute its five-year plan, the University has proposed to tear down the former home of The Picket, Sara Cree Hall.

Sara Cree, which was built in the early 1950’s, served as a gym until the wellness center was built in 2006. The plan for the lot Sara Cree sits on is intended for a parking lot.

There is just one problem.

The chimney of Sara Cree Hall is the home for more than 1,000 chimney swifts. Chimney swifts are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means they cannot legally be moved without a federal permit.

While Shepherd University is trying to keep this issue as quiet as possible, the birds are returning to the chimney at Sara Cree.

As many are well aware, Shepherd University is in desperate need of new parking options for commuters and residents, but not if that means destroying a habitat for these rare birds.

Parking has been an issue on campus and in town for years. If the lot of Sara Cree were to be turned into a parking lot, it would be comparable in size to A lot, which can fit roughly 100 cars. While that would be great, would it really fix the overflow of parking?

Many believe this would be a great solution but students would start trying to park closer rather than using F and H lots and both lots would be full before noon.

Although this would likely make people stop scrounging for quarters to park at a meter in town, they would still have to the $70 for a parking permit, which for some is worth it.

What the University needs to do is offer free parking in H lot, which is the biggest lot on campus and is also at the greatest distance, and make those who want to park in a closer lot pay for a $70 parking pass. The issue is not that there is not enough parking options, people just do not want to walk for two-plus miles in the pouring rain to make it to their 8 a.m. By adding free parking options to commuters, the Sara Cree lot would not be necessary.

The University’s media contact, Valerie Owens, said Shepherd is working to find a solution for the swifts, but I worry where the money is going to come from at such a cash-strapped university.

There is also the option of tearing down the already decaying building and just leaving the chimney. As mentioned in Demian Nunez’s article, there has been discussion of taking down the chimney and using the bricks to rebuild it elsewhere. The only question is, where would the birds go in the meantime?  And could the bricks really be salvaged to rebuild another chimney? If Shepherd cannot afford to build a parking lot on the Sara Cree property, can it afford to build a chimney?

The Shepherdstown community, which is possibly one of the most nature friendly towns in America, has discussed building chimneys elsewhere for the birds but what measures have actually been taken to ensure these chimney swifts a new home? The chimney swifts serve as a unique feature to Shepherd University and they should not be removed or relocated until the proper measures have been taken.

The efforts by the Shepherdstown community’s bird lovers to try and involve students in a fund-raising campaign is laudable and The Picket supports whatever the community seeks to do to save the birds and thanks the community for its efforts to publicize the birds’ rights.

For more information on Sara Cree’s chimney swifts, click here.

Hayley Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Picket and can be reached at hbutle01@rams.shepherd.edu or supicketeditor@gmail.com