Efforts Underway to Preserve Natural Bridge
Thomas Jefferson once owned it-and you could too….It’s the Natural Bridge property and attractions in Rockbridge County, up for sale and scheduled for public auction in November.
But in an effort to save and preserve the landmark, Congressman Bob Goodlatte has proposed the property actually be considered for addition to the national or state park system.
And in the latest move to protect the tourist attraction from a sale, a new coalition has been created by the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council and Valley Conservation Council.
Lee Merrill with the group says members hope to raise awareness and resources to establish Natural Bridge as a national monument or protected park, before a sale.
“The problem is the timeline. The state can act a lot faster than the federal government. A state park would be a wonderful outcome. It could have a national monument status on the arch stone bridge, within a state park which would be even better. And having it be a national park ultimately I would say is all of ours goal, because we feel that the arch is in fact an event of the same stature as all the other wonderful natural places that have been protected by national park services. In addition national park service status is by far the largest possible market, that is a huge system of public awareness. We would be thrilled to have it as a state park too.”
The property includes the 500-million-year-old limestone bridge, a 150-room hotel, a wax museum and about 1,600 acres of land. But if the auction takes place, the property could end up parceled.
“If it goes to auction, without the idea of the public being able to be a player, we haven’t a clue what could happen, in terms of how the property may be broken up. There’s a lot of concern for the lack of common thinking that might go into the whole situation if it were to be broken up into many pieces. There are 54 tax parcels.”
Despite the need to sell the property, Merrill says the business and bridge itself brings in a good deal of income for the right buyer.
“Ticket sales at the gate of the Natural Bridge are significant. There is real money coming through there. In addition to the profitability of the hotel and various other attractions, we are waiting to receive some very detailed financial materials, but at this point we believe the net profit of the gate on the bridge, compared to the expenses of running the bridge, are in the order of a million dollars a year.”
Tomorrow morning those interested in the future of the site are meeting with the state secretary of natural resources, as well as Congressman Goodlatte’s staff.
There is also a petition circulating to save Natural Bridge.