Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It is only natural... Natural Bridge, that is!

Could a limestone formation 215 feet high that was once owned by American's third President become part of the Virginia State Parks? Let's hope so because it is a natural fit.

Governor Bob McDonnell has let it be known that the Virginia State Park system would welcome a new addition of Natural Bridge, located in Rockbridge County, if a private group wants to buy it, claim some tax credits for conservation easements, and then donate it to the state. If that happens by the end of the year the General Assembly could work out funding for needed improvements, maintenance, and staffing. Natural Bridge is currently privately owned and the planned auction is on hold while the parcels are surveyed.

There are many reasons that Natural Bridge is a great fit in the Commonwealth's system of parks. Proximity to heavily traveled I-81, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Lexington make it a "natural" stop for tourists. Under private ownership ticket prices were high ($21 for adults and $12 for children) and raised $1-2 million each year. The state will probably lower the admission making it accessible to more people and an even more attractive tourist destination that will reap benefits for the nearby caverns and local businesses (and sales tax collections). The National Historic Landmark was owned by Thomas Jefferson who bought it from King George III for 20 shillings. It was later surveyed by none other than George Washington.

Another compelling reason for adding Natural Bridge to Virginia State Parks is the fact that the Shenandoah Valley and Highlands are woefully underrepresented in the system. Only three parks - Sky Meadows, Shenandoah River, and Douthat - are found in the region that stretches from Roanoke northward along I-81 to the West Virginia line.

Our elected officials should be desperately seeking investors to make this deal happen. It is a win-win for everyone.

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