NATURAL BRIDGE (WSLS 10) -One of the more iconic and historic sites in the United States will become the 37th Virginia State Park during a public ceremony Saturday.
Another big announcement came as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has designated the geologically and historically significant Natural Bridge site in Rockbridge County, Virginia as an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service (NPS). The site, recently designated as a state park, will be managed by Virginia State Parks.
First purchased by Thomas Jefferson from King George III of England in 1774, Natural Bridge has captivated visitors for hundreds of years. The limestone arch rises 215 feet above Cedar Creek and is located within a hilly, wooded landscape with hiking trails and scenic vistas. It was designated as a national historic landmark in 1998.
"Growing up near and working at Natural Bridge in my early years may be the true source of my 40 years of commitment to the protection and enjoyment of our National Parks," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "It is with great pride that it is now part of the Virginia State Park System and an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service."
Affiliated Areas are neither owned nor administered by the federal government, but they preserve important segments of the nation's heritage. Some of these have been recognized by Acts of Congress, others have been designated national historic sites by the Secretary of the Interior under authority of the Historic Sites Act of 1935.The National Park Service administers 22 national park sites in Virginia. Visitors to national parks in Virginia spent $983 million in 2016 resulting in an overall economic impact of $1.3 billion.
"At long last, this historic site will be under public management, operated by Virginia State Parks as a state park in perpetuity," said Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver. "Visitors will immediately see changes with new signs, new Virginia State Park staff, new state park branded items in the gift shop and lower daily admission fees."
Admission to the new state park will be free on opening day. The last concert in the Natural Bridge Live concert series will be at 7 p.m. Admission to the concert will be free as part of the celebration.
The property remains owned by the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, Inc. (VCLF), a nonprofit organization that seeks to conserve Virginia's natural resources and enhance public access and enjoyment of the outdoors.
VCLF purchased the bridge and an additional 1,343 acres, for a total of 1,531 acres, 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.
Virginia State Parks will manage the 1,531 acres, including the bridge and Rockbridge Center.
Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center and the Caverns at Natural Bridge, adjacent to Natural Bridge State Park, will remain the property of VCLF.
The Monacan village, staffed by historical interpreters, remains unchanged. The Gate House, formerly the Summer House, will continue to sell food and drinks.
The new admission fees will be comparable to other state parks' fees and will be announced during the ceremony.
"As a state park and due to the property's proximity to Interstate 81, we anticipate that visitors will return again and again," Seaver said. "In the future, we hope to increase programming and activities, build new hiking trails and complete a master plan process to guide the future of the park."
For more information about Virginia State Parks activities and amenities or to make a reservation for one of the more than 1,800 campsites or 300 climate-controlled cabins, call the Virginia State Parks Customer Service Center at 800-933-7275 or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov <http://www.virginiastateparks.gov/>.