As the leaves begin to change each fall in the Mountain State, the rolling hills and scenic views of the New River Gorge in Fayette County set the stage for one of the largest and most action-packed festivals in West Virginia: Bridge Day, a day in which an estimated 100,000 spectators gather on the longest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere to celebrate the oldest river in North America and all of its wonders.
And let’s not forget the hundreds of BASE jumpers and rappelers who plummet their way into the New River Gorge, just down the road from the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
“Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival and it is the only day that people are allowed to walk on the bridge,” says Cindy Dragan, the official chairperson of Bridge Day. “Not only is it a great way to get international exposure for West Virginia, it’s a unique way to get people to visit the state. A lot of people may not know much about West Virginia, but they’ve heard of Bridge Day.”
Held on the third Saturday of October each year, Bridge Day is the largest extreme sports event in the world. The main attraction of the day, BASE jumping, stands for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth, and means that individuals jump off any of those objects with special parachutes designed for rapid release. The drop off of the the New River Gorge is 876 feet. That is approximately as tall as stacking two Statues of Liberty on top of the Washington Monument, which makes for some of the best BASE jumping in the country.
Be sure to check out this infographic on Bridge Day BASE jumping.
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As jumpers are zooming past, there is another group of adventure-seeking individuals making their way off of the bridge. These folks are the rappellers.
Descending on 700-850-foot ropes, teams of rappellers travel from all over the world to take in the amazing views as they make their way to the banks of the New River below.
According to the official Bridge Day site, construction started on the bridge in 1974. Three short years later, on October 22, 1977, it was open.
Spanning 3,303-feet long, 70-feet wide, and weighing in at 88-million pounds of U.S. Cor Ten steel and American cement, the bridge became an instant symbol of West Virginia culture as soon as it opened. It also made traveling through the state much easier, as it connects U.S. Route 19 over the New River, making what was once a 45-minute trip down and back up into a 2-minute cruise across.
In 1980, three years after the bridge opened, two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge, while five jumped from the bridge into the gorge, marking the first-ever Bridge Day. Now, the event is 32 years old and attracts nearly 100,000 people from all over the world to participate and to watch the fun.
“If you take everything that you love about a festival and stage it in the beautiful New River Gorge, then you get Bridge Day,” Dragan adds.
So grab something to eat from one of the food vendors on scene and get ready to watch some crazy action on the New River Gorge Bridge. Join us on October 15, 2011 for Bridge day!
Tell us: Would you BASE jump or rappel off of the New River Gorge Bridge?