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U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, whose district includes the landmark, has asked the National Park Service to examine whether it can become part of the National Park system.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Groups of home schooled students walk under the Natural Bridge during a field trip organized by the Home Educators Association of Virginia.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte has asked for a study to determine if Natural Bridge should become a national park.
The privately owned 215-foot-high geological landmark and tourist attraction in Rockbridge County recently went up for sale. Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County, whose 6th Congressional District includes Natural Bridge, asked the National Park Service to look into the possibility of the bridge becoming part of the National Park system.
“Many people in the community are greatly concerned about the future of the iconic Natural Bridge,” Goodlatte said in a statement released Wednesday by his spokeswoman, Beth Breeding.
“As a result of a request from those looking at the various options for the future of the landmark, I have asked the National Park Service to study whether it would be possible to potentially add Natural Bridge to the system under very specific parameters: 1) it would be done with private funds; 2) a conservation easement would be placed on adjoining property to protect it for the future.”
Both the National Park Service and Valley Conservation Council were contacted, but neither body had an immediate comment Wednesday.
The towering limestone arch, carved naturally by the creek that runs under it, has drawn visitors for hundreds of years. Thomas Jefferson once owned the bridge after purchasing it from England’s King George III. George Washington is believed to have surveyed properties nearby and Monacan Indians called it “The Bridge of God.”
Washington businessman Angelo Puglisi heads a group that has owned the bridge and surrounding property since about 1988. Puglisi put the bridge and other attractions on the market in May. These attractions include the Natural Bridge Hotel, a wax museum, caverns and about 1,600 acres of surrounding undeveloped property.
Roanoke-based Woltz & Associates is marketing the bridge and accompanying real estate. Auctioneer and broker Jim Woltz has said he prefers that the bridge become part of either the
federal or state park systems and remain open to the public. The properties will be divided into separate parcels and those that are not sold could be auctioned in November.
In 2007, the entire property was put up for sale for $39 million, but the ensuing economic recession kept buyers away.
Goodlatte’s request of the park service that it seek private funds with which to acquire the bridge would probably mean that an individual or a group will have to come up with the money to buy the property, then turn over operation of the attraction to the park service.
Woltz said that he has spoken with several nonprofit and conservation-minded groups about starting a fundraising campaign to buy just the bridge and about 150 adjoining acres. He did not say how much money would need to be raised for that purchase.
“We would like to work out a deal where all donations would flow to an organization to create a sum of money that allows a conservation group to purchase the bridge,” Woltz said. “The public wants it to be a park.”
The Staunton-based Valley Conservation Council is one of the groups that has been contacted about initiating such a fundraising drive. The council has helped Shenandoah Valley landowners protect rural land, farms and historic sites through conservation easements, which restrict development rights and offer potential tax benefits for owners.
The council or another charitable group could help fulfill Goodlatte’s second requirement that the undeveloped property around the bridge be protected by an easement. Woltz said that an easement could cover as much as 1,200 surrounding acres.
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