Natural Bridge, for decades a privately owned attraction, has been and remains one of Virginia’s most iconic landforms and tourist destinations.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Tom Clarke, CEO of the nonprofit Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF), Natural Bridge and 1531 acres of surrounding open land will become Virginia’s newest state park. The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund is a subsidiary of Kissito Healthcare Inc. a nonprofit based in Roanoke, VA. In collaboration with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe and other Virginia dignitaries attended a celebration at Natural Bridge on May 12th.
Kissito’s mission statement reads, “Kissito Healthcare exists for the betterment and care of human life.” Expanding on that mission, Tom Clarke has taken a keen interest in resource sustainability, land conservation and public education about climate change, natural limits to growth and resource exploitation. The purchase of Natural Bridge by VCLF supports this expanded mission. VCLF is working closely with Virginia State Parks to develop the park to meet state standards. VSP will be the eventual owner of Natural Bridge in several years.
In the meantime, VCLF has been wasting no time improving the park. The massive Rockbridge Center that includes a gift shop is being updated. The gift shop will feature artwork by regional artists and Virginia wines and food products. The 6,500-square foot lower level of the Rockbridge Center is reserved for interpretive exhibits
VCLF has hired Imperial Multimedia to develop an exhibit concept plan for the entire area. In preliminary discussions about proposed exhibits, many imaginative ideas were shared, including: an exhibit that will feature a “conversation” with (a virtual) Thomas Jefferson, the original owner of Natural Bridge in the 1700s; NOAA’s “Science on a Sphere,” a huge interactive globe that provides exciting facts about our world; interactive exhibits that feature the “Great Wagon Road” through the Shenandoah Valley and a glimpse into the life of moonshiners; and multiple in-house theaters.
Natural Bridge has been designated a National Historic Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings at Natural Bridge will soon be nominated to form a historic district.