On Saturday, Virginia’s Natural Bridge, the iconic span of rock once owned by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, will officially become part of the Virginia State Parks — all 1,531 acres. In the move to protect the internationally known state and national treasure, it becomes the Commonwealth’s 37th park.
The public has been invited to join in the big celebration this weekend with free admission, entertainment, and an official dedication at 10:00am by federal, state, and local officials. The new manager will be James Jones, currently the assistant manager of James River State Park.
In recent years tight finances and less visitors resulted in a property that had become worn and dated with many reminders harkening back to the 1960s. In 2014 when the owners wanted to sell, the nonprofit Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, Inc. (VCLF) that works to conserve natural resources while encouraging use and play in the outdoors stepped in to purchase the historic site for $9 million.
The first changes for Natural Bridge State Park will immediately be seen by visitors, as noted by Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver. “At long last, this historic site will be under public management, operated by Virginia State Parks as a state park in perpetuity,” he commented. “Visitors will immediately see changes with new signs, new Virginia State Park staff, new state park branded items in the gift shop, and lower daily admission fees.” Plans include increased programming and activities, and adding new hiking trails.
While the state park system will run the concession that is the historic site including the Monacan Indian village, VCLF will retain ownership of Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center, and Natural Bridge Caverns.
History of Natural Bridge
The 200-foot-high limestone arch known as Natural Bridge was originally called the “Bridge of God” by the Monacan Indians who worshipped there for over 300 years. In 1750, eighteen-year-old George Washington surveyed it for Lord Fairfax and carved his initials high up on the wall. Thomas Jefferson purchased it in 1774 so that it could be preserved as a site for others to enjoy, thus becoming one of the earliest tourist destinations in the New World. In 1997 Natural Bridge was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register followed in 1998 as a designated National Historic Landmark.
Geologists who have studied Natural Bridge determined the 500-million-year-old wonder was created when a cavern collapsed, leaving the limestone arch that is 215 feet high with a 90-foot span between the walls. A hiking trail and Cedar Creek wind beneath its arch, and U.S. Route 11 crosses over it. Yes, the Lee Highway actually crosses Natural Bridge but there is no view from the road as the actual sight of the bridge is blocked by tall walls.
It was originally listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and, while no longer on the list that includes Mt. Everest and the Grand Canyon, it is still a natural wonder worth seeing. My youthful remembrance from visiting the site besides the bridge was the saltpeter mine from my historical readings.
In 1999 Natural Bridge made the news when a chunk of limestone broke off and fell, killing a visitor who was standing beneath the arch reading a plaque.
It will be nice to see a spiffed-up Natural Bridge site and, under the guidance of the state park system, upgrades and updates made to the property. Best of all, it’s good to know this historical wonder will not be lost to unscrupulous types who may exploit its beauty.
If you’re going:
What: Natural Bridge State Park Dedication – free admission
Date: Saturday, September 24, 2016
Dedication: 10:00 am
Location: I-81, Exit 175. Natural Bridge State Park is located on U.S. Route 11 (Lee Highway) south of Route 130 (Rockbridge Road) in Natural Bridge, VA.
Cross-posted at Bearing Drift