|The Roanoke Times | File 2007|
The Natural Bridge will become a state park under a deal reached between its former and current owners and several Virginia agencies.
The complicated real estate transaction, recorded Thursday in Rockbridge County, fulfills its longtime owner’s desire to preserve the national treasure once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
Angelo Puglisi donated the 215-foot limestone arch, valued at $21 million, to the newly formed Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund and received conservation tax credits estimated to be worth about $7 million along with $8.6 million in cash for the balance of his Natural Bridge holdings that encompass more than 1,500 mostly forested acres.
“It is something that needs to be preserved as Mount Vernon and Monticello,” Puglisi said. “I’m afraid we are losing the history of our country.”
For Puglisi, entrusting the historic structure to the state offers the assurance that many generations yet to come can stand in awe of Jefferson’s bridge on property surveyed by George Washington and hear the story of the nation’s founding.
Last spring Puglisi contracted with Jim Woltz of Roanoke-based Woltz and Associates to auction the property, but told him that he wanted the national historic landmark to become a national or state park.
“He didn’t want it to be a carnival. He didn’t want to see a zip line off the bridge,” Woltz said.
The deal with the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund goes beyond protecting the bridge, Native American village and waterfall — features most visitors have viewed. Eventually, all of the holdings, save for the hotel and cottages, will become part of the state park system.
“This is truly a historic day for a very special place,” said Faye Cooper, executive director of the Valley Conservation Council.
“Everyone acknowledges the historic value with Jefferson having owned it. But it has special significance as a rather large property with a great variety of conservation values — scenic, ecological, underlying caverns, rare forest connections — and the geological features are truly extraordinary to tell the history of the region.”