NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. – A year ago Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared Natural Bridge a state park, the 37th in Virginia, and since then, the park has seen lots of improvements.
"There's a lot of locals that are coming and visiting now. We have annual passes they can purchase," said Jim Jones, park manager.
Since becoming a state park Sept. 24, 2016, the number of visitors increased by 41 percent or 180,000 visitors. Jones says marketing and lower park fees contributes to the increase.
"We're working with our chamber of commerce. We're also working with the Lexington-Rockbridge Tourism. They have been instrumental in getting promotional materials out," said Jones.
Jones says the state park status is also noticeable in the gift shop.
"We have state park branded merchandise there. The non-admission fees that we noticed have increased by 132 percent," said Jones.
Seventy-six percent of visitors at Natural Bridge are from out of state. coming from the west and all down the East Coast and also globally.
Kathy Hannon drove from upstate New York to hike and capture the beauty with her camera at Natural Bridge.
"We've been going down the Blue Ridge Parkway and we saw it was one of the options and I been to another Natural Bridge in upstate New York and I thought it was really cool, so I wanted to stop here," said Hannon.
And more visitors means activities and programs are increasing at the park.
"Additional hiking trials, primitive type camping, new visitors centers will be developed and placed and possible group camping," said Jones.
Jones says people will see some new activities this fall such as stargazing in October and archery, which has already started.