Natural Bridge State Park

A large limestone arch is the focal point of Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia. (Virginia State Parks)

One of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s most stunning natural spectacles is at a crossroads, and officials are asking the public to help steer it in a new direction.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is seeking comments on a 10-year master plan for Natural Bridge State Park. The park’s focal point is a 215-foot-tall, 90-foot-long limestone arch that is traversed by a major north-south highway, U.S. Route 11.

Under the proposed plan, the DCR would collaborate with the state Department of Transportation on that agency’s ongoing efforts to remove the highway from the top of the Natural Bridge. In 2018, a geological study conducted by Radford University found that while Route 11 remains safe for travel, the bedrock formation beneath it contains structural flaws, such as fractures, air pockets and boulders susceptible to breaking free and plummeting to the trail below.

If the road stays, vibrations from traffic and stormwater flowing off the hard surfaces will continue to slowly weakenthe formation’s integrity, researchers said in the report. They recommended removing the road and routing its traffic elsewhere.

The popular tourist attraction remains privately owned but has been managed by the state since 2016. One of its former owners was Thomas Jefferson, who had purchased the feature from the king of Great Britain in 1774 partly to preserve it for future generations.

The master plan also calls for turning at least portions of an existing hotel into an environmental education center, adding more parking lots, creating a campground and removing and repairing dams on the park’s waterways.

Comments can be emailed to lynn.crump@dcr.virginia.gov or faxed to 804-371-7899. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 21.

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