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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So Beautiful An Arch

"So beautiful an arch," Jefferson wrote, "so elevated, so light, and springing, as it were, up to heaven, the rapture of the Spectator is really indescribable!" and since then, Natural Bridge, VA has passed into the national lore as one of America's heritage sites. I always imagined such a site as worthy of National Park distinction. I was surprised to learn that Natural Bridge is a privately owned tourist attraction packaged with other such grand attractions such as the Wax Museum & Factory Tour, Professor Clines's Haunted Monster Museum & Dino Kingdom, a replica of Stonehenge made out of styrofoam known as FoamHenge and The Toy Museum, the largest collection of childhood memorabilia on display in the world. I believe there is also a petting zoo somewhere close by. One of America's great natural attractions has been reduced to the status of a roadside zoo.

Jefferson, for all his failings had an eye for the natural beauty of his native state. Having built an estate on a sublime hill in Albemarle County, he counted Natural Bridge among his possessions. He was a natural promoter of the state that he lived in declaring Harpers Ferry "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature". How could a place so closely associated with one of our founding fathers be so fabulously ignored by the guardians of our national heritage, the National Park System. My answer is I don't know. While Jefferson's house, Monticello, is owned by a private foundation, it is carefully kept as a shrine to it's builder. To me, Natural Bridge goes beyond it's historical connection to Jefferson. It is a place that has filled my imagination since I was a child and it remains such.

I stopped once at Natural Bridge to check it out. As a matter of fact I have driven over it. It truly is a natural bridge over which Route 11, the (Robert E) Lee Highway runs. The interesting part is that you can drive over Natural Bridge without even knowing it is there. There is an unpainted plywood wall on both sides of the rode to make sure that unpaying sightseers don't accidentally catch a glimpse of this privately held natural wonder. I can only guess at the political connections that made this possible. The interesting thing is that almost nobody seems to care and no one I know has ever been there, no wonder. Governor Kaine's reply via an assistant was that there is no money available in the budget to purchase Natural Bridge (it is for sale) on behalf of the people and that I should contact the authorities in Rockbridge County to see if they have any interest. There was no expression of personal interest or opinion, just a statement on fiscal fiduciary responsibilities. It is the kind of inspirational leadership I have come to expect from the Governor.

An LAOTC rerun.

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