New River Gorge Bridge Day is one of the nation’s best festivals!
Each year, on the third Saturday in October the New River Gorge plays host to hundreds as it hosts New River Gorge Bridge Day – ranked in 2010 by Road Trips for Families as one of “America’s Top 10 Family Festivals.” Imagine being in the middle of the action as an estimated 175,000 people come from around the world to share everything that a great festival has to offer. Vendors from near and far offer an unbelievable variety of foods, local crafts, photos and much, much more. The main attraction of Bridge Day is actually the world’s largest one-day extreme sports event, where the largest single gathering of BASE jumpers in the world join over 300 rappelling experts to hang from, but mostly jump off of, the New River Gorge Bridge. Cindy Dragan, Bridge Day Chairperson says, “This festival is all about living. Our setting, the New River Gorge, is one of the world’s oldest places, and BASE jumping is one of the world’s most cutting edge sports. Above the famous white water rafting on the New River, jumpers, rappelling experts, and thousands and thousands of onlookers gather for the state’s biggest party of the year.”
Bridge Day is the only day of the year that people are allowed to legally walk on the deck of 876-foot high span that towers over one of North America’s oldest rivers. Since it was completed on October 22, 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge has received numerous accolades. In 2007, Life Magazine recognized the bridge as one of the “100 Places to See in Your Lifetime”, and Lonely Planet ranked the span as one of the “10 Most Stunning Bridges Around the World” in 2008. When it opened, the New River Gorge bridge reduced what used to be a 40-minute drive down a curvy, narrow mountain road and back up the same on the other side to a straight shot from rim to rim that is now completed in under a minute. The drive across the bridge is typically completed in around 45 seconds, and although the view is spectacular, Bridge Day gives everyone the opportunity to stop and smell the roses, filling their senses (and their cameras) with images and memories from the panoramic backdrop of the acclaimed New River Gorge National River, ranked in 2008 by Outdoor Life as one of the “Top Twelve National Parks.”
The main event of the weekend is the BASE jumping that takes place on Saturday morning in front of a host of cameras that broadcast the activities to a global audience. In 2010, 363 jumpers logged 1030 jumps within the six hour time window. In a sport where experience is invaluable, each member of this highly experienced collection of jumpers averaged 90 BASE jumps and an additional 1099 skydives. Twelve countries and 40 U. S. states were represented, with the oldest jumper being 70-years of age. This year, an estimated 450 daredevils are expected to easily surpass 1000 BASE jumps from the bridge.
Created by aerial cinematographer Carl Boenish in 1978, “BASE” is an acronym that stands for Buildings, Antenna, Spans, and Earth, representing each of the four types of fixed objects that offer experienced skydivers an opportunity to take their passion to the next level. Increasing the risk and the rush, BASE jumping allows jumpers only seconds to deploy their one and only chute; reserve chutes are not an option and any mistake may very well be the jumper’s last.
So who in their right mind would BASE jump? According to Bridge Day Jump Coordinator Jason Bell, owner of Bridgeport, West Virginia’s Vertical Visions, “Most people will never understand why we jump, and words alone cannot describe the amazing feelings experienced on a BASE jump. Many BASE jumpers have normal lives with normal jobs and families. Most have been jumping around the world for decades and come from educated backgrounds.” Vertical Visions, LLC, handles all jumper registration for Bridge Day. To be eligible, jumpers have to have logged at least 100 parachute jumps (skydiving or BASE), and have completed jumps in the last two years.
As dangerous as it looks, the number of accidents and fatalities in BASE jumping actually pale in comparison to those found in other very popular, more traditional outdoor activities. In September 2007 alone, eleven West Virginians died in all-terrain vehicle accidents. Since 1980, Bridge Day jumpers have recorded over 30,000 jumps and there have been only three fatalities. Most serious BASE jumping accidents occur when the jumper fails to clear, or slams into, the structure from which they are leaping. Because of its design, the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge is actually one of the safest objects jumpers will find.
Rappelling was added to the Bridge Day line-up in 1992. Using fixed ropes ranging from 700 to 850 feet in length, experienced mountaineers have a unique opportunity to get an even greater perspective of the bridge’s mammoth scale. In 2010, rappelling experts made 832 rappels and 48 ascents.
This Bridge Day, for the first time in its 32-year history, Vertical Visions is offering ten (10) Tandem BASE jump slots. This unique opportunity will offer thrill seekers with absolutely no experience (just guts) the chance to BASE jump while attached to a highly experienced jump professional. One of Bridge Day’s long time sponsors, Hometown Subaru has also added a new twist for 2011 visitors. The first 300 people who call the New River Gorge Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) can reserve seats on a shuttle that will take them down into the gorge and give them the special vantage point of viewing the action from ground level. The cost is only $20.00 per person. Call (800) 927-0263) for more details.
The Bridge Day Festival has exploded since it was first celebrated on November 8, 1980. The growth of the event led to the formation of the Bridge Day Commission that was established by the West Virginia Legislature in 1990. This commission is comprised of members that represent city, county, state and federal government. In addition, representatives from the National Park Service serve in an advisory role. This commission oversees the thousands of hours of planning and coordination that are required to make the festival possible and it is responsible for every detail, from logistics to security and public safety.
A crowd of this magnitude has the potential to leave a pretty big mess, but festival organizers have that all under control. Last year, Bridge Day won the 2010 Environmental Award from the West Virginia Fairs and Festivals Association. For the second year, festival organizers are working with the Green Advisory Team from Fayetteville and with local Boy Scout troops to recycle cardboard, plastic and aluminum. In addition, all logoed Bridge Day shirts will be supplied by Sustain U, a West Virginia based company located in Morgantown, and will be made from 100% recycled material.
One of the festival’s newer traditions is the “Bridge Day Poster” contest which began in 2005. This contest invites West Virginia artists to submit their original designs to commemorate the New River Gorge Bridge and Bridge Day. This collectable series of numbered, limited edition posters has become a popular item. Entries are submitted via Facebook (or dropped off at the CVB) and are compiled in a Facebook album. The artist of the submission that receives the most “likes” throughout the five day voting period is recognized as “Bridge Day’s Features West Virginia Artist” and autographs copies in the Official Bridge Day booth on the day of the event. To view past winners, or more details, visit www.OfficialBridgeDay.com/poster-winners.
New River Gorge Bridge Day offers West Virginia a chance to play host to the world, sharing the breath-taking beauty of the gorge and the amazing engineering feat of the bridge.
For those planning to attend, shuttles begin leaving designated parking areas located on both sides of the bridge at 8:30. BASE jumping and vendor’s booths are open from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. For a full calendar of the Bridge Day activities, visit www.OfficialBridgeDay.com or call the New River Gorge CVB at (800) 927-0263.