Sunday, June 26, 2022

Camping in Natural Bridge, Virginia


When you turn onto Artists Loop and enter Thunder BRidge Campground, a cluster of buildings greets you--history still in the making. In 1933, unemployed young men came here as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and began constructing four barracks to become their home away from home. As time passed, they added on--a dining hall, a gymnasium, cottages, storage space, and much more. After the CCC ended 9 years later, the property became a correctional facility for boys in the National Training School, a federal government program for troubled kids. About 1964, the facilities became home to boys in the Virginia state correctional system. 

Both of these programs reformed juvenile corrections. The "guards" did not carry guns and no fences enclosed the property. Instead of simply incarcerating problem youth, the Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center taught them skills so they would return to society as productive citizens. As you walk around the complex, you'll find the auto shop, woodworking shops, masonry shop, kitchen, classrooms, a reading room, a library, and maybe, if you look closely enough, a barber shop. A bulletin board near the entrance to the gymnasium bears the title, "Thunder Ridge High School," home of the "Timber Wolves."

What will Thunder BRidge Campground, LLC do with all these buildings? The answer remains to be seen. The owners picture a cultural art center, where artists work in studios open to visitors and offer workshops. Five artists currently maintain studios here. Perhaps the gym will become a performance venue? Maybe the pasture will host music festivals? We welcome your ideas.

RV campers promptly turn right to drive past the auto shop, masonry shop and Youth Industries buildings, a stretch that resembles a Western movie set. Tent and cabin campers continue straight, through the pasture (ballfields), into 64 acres of woods, toward the Pavilion--a gathering spot and home to restrooms and showers. 

On the way, you'll find the first campsite (Bunny 2), at the old climbing wall. Some day we may resurrect the zip line that ran from the top of the wall across the road to a tree long gone. The second campsite, Bunny 3, sits near the Pavilion. Handy to restrooms and showers, this site contains the knot-tying station, part of an old ropes course, remnants of which you'll find if you explore the woods. 

Tune in soon, for a continuing description of Thunder BRidge.


  1. James. It is Great fun to hear about more of the history. Thanks for your work in making that happen!

  2. I enjoyed biking around, exploring the property. A unique mix of nature and history!

  3. Awesome to see y’all’s progress with this property! Art studios / venue is such a cool idea for this Area!
    - Blue Ridge Musky