Governor Terry McAuliffe officially opened Natural Bridge State Park in Rockbridge County on Saturday. Conveniently located 45 minutes from Lynchburg and Roanoke, the Commonwealth’s 37th state park is notable for its unique geology and range of recreational opportunities.
During the ceremony, Governor McAuliffe designated Natural Bridge State Park the 925th Virginia Treasure. The Virginia Treasures program is central to the Governor’s strategy for conserving land and creating opportunities for outdoor recreation.
“The historical and geological significance of Natural Bridge is beyond question, and I am pleased to announce that this property will now be operated for public benefit and enjoyment,” said Governor McAuliffe, speaking at the announcement. “The dedication of this magnificent new park is a tremendous milestone for Virginia and an excellent tribute to the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s 80th anniversary. The Natural Bridge joins the ranks of Virginia’s inimitable natural Treasures and further establishes our park system as one of the best in the nation.”
Virginia State Parks, a subdivision of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, will manage the 1,531 acres, including the bridge and Rockbridge Center. Admission costs $6 for children and $8 for adults.
“As our population and economy continue to grow, the Commonwealth must act to conserve and protect significant natural and historic resources, particularly those as our world-famous and awe-inspiring as Natural Bridge,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. “These agreements protect more than 1,500 immaculate acres from commercial development. This geologic gem will be now managed with the same commitment to public access and interpretation the Department of Conservation and Recreation has demonstrated for 80 years.”
Rising 215 feet above Cedar Creek, Natural Bridge supports the Lee Highway along U.S. Route 11. After being surveyed by George Washington, the iconic arch was purchased by Thomas Jefferson who described it as “the most Sublime of nature’s works.” The property was mentioned in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and has hosted notable figures including John Marshall, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Sam Houston, Martin Van Buren, and Calvin Coolidge. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.
“Travelers from all over the world visit Virginia each year to experience our natural beauty, scenic drives, and superior state parks,” said Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “Virginia State Parks have an economic impact of more than $200 million annually, and we’re thrilled to welcome a new—and iconic—state park to Rockbridge County for travelers to enjoy for many years to come.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has designated Natural Bridge State Park as an Affiliated Unit of the National Park Service under the U.S. Department of Interior. Natural Bridge is only the 25th such site in the country and the fourth in Virginia.
“As a native Virginian and graduate of Natural Bridge High School who, as Boy Scout, escorted thousands of people under Natural Bridge for Easter Sunrise Services, this place has special meaning for me. I am very pleased to have the Commonwealth manage this incredible resource and to be their partner as an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
The property is owned by the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, Inc. (“VCLF”), a nonprofit organization that seeks to conserve Virginia’s natural resources for public access and enjoyment of the outdoors. VCLF purchased the parkland with $9.1 million from the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. Once the loan is retired, the property will be transferred to state ownership. The adjacent Caverns at Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center remains privately owned.
“Our relationship with DCR and Virginia State Parks is a great example of the good that comes from public and private sectors working together. Neither side could have done it alone but together, great things were accomplished. My hope is that this will serve as a model for future initiatives that protect our lands for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy with their families” said Tom Clarke, CEO of Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF) Inc.
The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund Inc. is a nonprofit organization that seeks to conserve Virginia’s natural resources for public access and enjoyment. Its work in preserving and restoring wildlife habitat is also meant to create economic activity through the recreational and mixed use of Virginia’s forests and open spaces. VCLF is a member of the Kissito Inc. portfolio of companies. Kissito is a 25-year-old Roanoke, Virginia-based, nonprofit charity working domestically and internationally in health, aging, nutrition, natural resources and human development. VCLF and Kissito seek to blend the disciplines of health, nutrition and natural environment to improve the quality of life for the people of Virginia while sustaining natural resources.