Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 4, 2013

Auction for Va. landmark Natural Bridge delayed


Associated Press

NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. — The November auction for a Virginia landmark and tourism attraction once owned by Thomas Jefferson is being delayed for a month because of the complexity of surveying the site.

The privately owned Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County, along with Natural Bridge Caverns and a 150-room hotel is now expected to be auctioned off on Dec. 18, said Jim Woltz of Roanoke-based Woltz & Associates, the firm marketing the tourist attraction that has drawn visitors for hundreds of years. The 1,600-acre property includes the 215-foot-high limestone arch that was carved naturally by the creek that runs under it.

The property’s primary owner is Washington, D.C., businessman Angelo Puglisi. There were no buyers in 2007, when it was listed for sale for $39 million.

Unlike the previous sale attempt, buyers can purchase any or all of the property.

Woltz told The Roanoke Times (http://bit.ly/1bDLUtg) that there’s a lot of interest in the property, but some want only the hotel or just the bridge or the caverns. Others seek a combination of attractions.

“All along my hope has been — I’ve shared the dream —that it would be nice to see this part of history preserved. That it would be a state park or a national park or be purchased by a person just like Mr. Puglisi who has believed in that history and that story and has not made it a sideshow or a carnival,” he said.

In June, the National Park Service agreed to study the possibility of turning Natural Bridge into a national park at the urging of Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte. The Roanoke-area congressman suggested that private funds be used and that a conservation easement be placed on adjoining property to protect it from development.

Gary Waugh, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, also said the state would be willing to take it as a donation and run it as a state park.

A group called Friends of the Natural Bridge is attempting to pull together a benefactor to do that.

There’s no definite plan, but the group is exploring several scenarios that could include the use of tax credits, charitable donations and even a loan that could be serviced through ticket sales, said Faye Cooper, executive director of Valley Conservation Council, which is part of the coalition affiliated with the organization.

Thomas Jefferson once owned the bridge after purchasing it from England’s King George III. George Washington is believed to have surveyed properties nearby and Monacan Indians called it “The Bridge of God.”