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Natural Bridge State Park named Green Park of the Year for waste management program

Courtesy of Natural Bridge State Park.

Natural Bridge State Park has been named Green Park of the Year by the Virginia Green Travel Alliance for its sustainability efforts and commitment to environmental stewardship.

The designation was announced at the 2024 Virginia Green Travel Star & Leader Awards, which are presented annually to Virginia’s greenest tourism operators and partners.

While Natural Bridge’s sustainable practices encompass various aspects of operations, the park’s multifaceted approach to waste management earned it the title of Green Park of the Year.

Spearheaded by Chief Ranger Jessie Carter, the waste reduction program started in 2023 to decrease the amount of trash the park, which sees nearly 200,000 visitors annually, contributes to Rockbridge County’s landfill.

Waste management started with a new container system, which separates glass, metal, plastic film and other recyclable plastics, cardboard and paper, and food waste. Then, each of the items is given a new purpose.

The paper is shredded and mixed with food waste and other organics and digested with a microbial product that’s brewed in Virginia called Kenkashi to create compost. The compost is used throughout the park to augment soils, improve organic composition and stimulate vegetative growth on barren soils, reducing erosion and promoting plant succession.

Any food-grade glass is processed into various grades of sand by local company EarthMagic Recycling. The park used 36 tons of recycled crushed glass for its tee boxes along the 18-hole Thistle Ridge Disc Golf Trail. Thirty-six tons of glass is equivalent to 3.6 million 12-ounce glass bottles.

The plastic film is taken to recycling centers at Food Lion and Kroger grocery chains. The effort is part of the NexTrex program that turns post-consumer products into usable materials. For every 500 pounds of film collected in six months, NexTrex sends the park a bench made from 95 percent recycled materials, including reclaimed sawdust and recycled plastic film. In the past year, the park received three benches, saving 1,500 pounds of plastic film from going into the landfill.

The metals are taken to the refuse recycling center in Rockbridge County. The money from recycling is given to the Friends of Natural Bridge State Park and set aside to continue to support the park’s sustainability initiatives.

The waste management program was a driving force behind Natural Bridge’s designation as Green Park of the Year. The designation also earned Carter the 2024 Green Team All-Star Award, which recognizes individuals for their efforts to lead their organization’s green programs.

“Chief Ranger Carter created a successful sustainability program that directly reduces the impact our park has on the environment, creates tangible results and sets the stage for other state parks to implement these waste management practices,” Park Manager Jim Jones said. “The recognition we received from the Virginia Green Travel Alliance validates her efforts and highlights the importance of preserving our natural heritage for future generations.”

To help visitors understand their role in the waste management program, Natural Bridge has fliers, posters and kiosks around the park. Carter also conducts educational programs with local organizations to explain the program and show how they can play a part in reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.