League Lines: Connections for Natural Bridge Conservation

Virginia Awardees Natural Bridge ConservationVirginia > When it comes to conserving a National Historic Landmark and acres of pristine forest, the story is rarely simple. We reported part of the story in the last issue of Outdoor America (2015, Issue 4) with details on an award given to Congressman Bob Goodlatte by the Virginia Division. However, it was a group effort to conserve a natural wonder in Virginia.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Natural Bridge site a National Historic Landmark. Thanks to the dedication of a diverse group of stakeholders — Angelo Puglisi, A&M Investments; James Woltz, Woltz and Associates; Thomas Clarke, Kissito Healthcare International/Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund; Faye Cooper, Valley Conservation Council; Joe Elton, Virginia State Parks; and Congressman Bob Goodlatte (6th District of Virginia) — and support from then-Governor Bob McDonnell, the Natural Bridge is destined to become part of the Virginia State Parks system.

The Natural Bridge property was sold by a family group headed by Angelo Puglisi to the newly formed Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, of which Tom Clarke is CEO. The transaction was negotiated by real estate broker Jim Woltz. Faye Cooper, who was Executive Director of the Valley Conservation Council at the time, worked for decades to protect the natural resources of the 11-county area that includes the Natural Bridge, and her ability to bring together key organizations propelled the project forward. The League’s Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter nominated these four people for League Honor Roll Awards in 2014, citing not only their personal labors but also the result: “1,488 beautiful, ecologically rich acres will be protected and enjoyed. It will serve as a natural area between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests.”

According to the Valley Conservation Council, the property includes acres of unique forest land and limestone features. A huge system of caves lies underneath, and nine subterranean species of rare fauna have been documented there, including three that are globally rare and one found nowhere else on the planet.

In addition to nominating Puglisi, Clarke, Woltz, and Cooper for national Honor Roll Awards, the Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter also suggested that the Virginia Division present them — along with Joe Elton, Congressman Goodlatte, and former-Governor McDonnell — with conservation awards from the division.

In 2015, the Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter hosted an awards ceremony at the Natural Bridge to present the national Honor Roll Awards and Special Conservation Awards from the Virginia Division to the honorees. Chapter member Mike Lane, who submitted the nominations on behalf of the chapter, served as emcee for the event. “A lot of people with divergent interests put aside their potential differences to make something incredible happen,” says Lane, who is looking forward to the final results.