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Natural Bridge and its surroundings are for sale. Virginia needs to purchase and finally protect this natural treasure.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Natural Bridge, formed when a cavern collapsed millions of years ago, has withstood munition makers and armies of tourists. But how well the 215-foot-high limestone formation weathers even the next decades, let alone millenniums, is in question now that the owner of this natural treasure is offering it for sale.
The Natural Bridge is a National Historic Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark and is listed in the national Register of Historic Places, but ever since Thomas Jefferson purchased it for 20 shillings from King George III in 1774, it has remained in private hands. Those hands have been mostly kind, allowing the public, for a price, to visit and stand in awe of what the Monacan Indians called “The Bridge of God.”
Though visitors can slog through the ubiquitous man-made tourist traps — wax museum, children’s arcade, tchotchke-stocked gift shop — the awe of the bridge has remained creator made. Man has helped nature along some in cutting and softening trails along the property to the waterfall and the Saltpeter Cave where ammunition was made for the War of 1812, but efforts have been made to preserve the unique geological formation and to explain its origin and history to visitors.
The next owner might not be inclined to share the treasure with the public or, worse, allow commercialization to creep farther along the trail, dwarfing nature’s majesty.
There is one, sure way to prevent this: public ownership. Virginia should not pass up the opportunity to purchase and preserve this treasure. The state was not in a position to bargain with property owner Angelo Puglisi of Washington, D.C., when he placed it on the market in 2007 for $39 million. The timing, at the start of the recession, was poor, and neither public nor private buyers were ready, willing and able to purchase the landmark.
This time, though, Puglisi is willing to carve up the parcels to buyers interested in just one or some of the tracts, and the economy isn’t likely to cool interest. Rather than be forced to buy all the property, buyers could take just the bridge or just the hotel, which could attract exactly the type of development that would spoil Natural Bridge.
Though there is nothing extraordinary about hotels and wax museums, Virginia should offer to purchase all of Puglisi’s holdings at Natural Bridge, if only to ward off the encroachment of cookie-cutter T-shirt shops, snack stands, haunted houses and miniature golf courses and chain hotels.
Unlike all those, Natural Bridge cannot be replicated.
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