The New River Gorge Bridge.
FAYETTEVILLE, W. Va. — Orange signs placed along U.S. Route 19 show detour instructions for Oct 21, signaling another Bridge Day is finally here.
Bridge Day 2017 will be particularly special as the iconic structure celebrates its 40th anniversary. The first vehicles crossed on Oct. 22, 1977, after nearly three years of construction.
While the event is known internationally for BASE (bridge, antenna, span and earth) jumping, organizers say there is something for everyone to enjoy. Mandy Wriston of the Bridge Day Commission said the BASE jumping tradition happened unintentionally. She was a guest on MetroNews affiliate WJLS: The Voice of Beckley's Radio Roundtable.
“When you get an 876 ft.-tall anything, BASE jumpers are going to want to jump off it,” Wriston said. “So we just decided to cooperate and make it legal.”
The first Bridge Day was held on Nov. 8, 1980. Only seven people jumped the inaugural year. This year, the Commission expects hundreds of jumpers and repellers from across the world. Wriston said even if you don't want to jump, there are plenty of other ways to take part in the celebration.
“A lot of people don't know about the highline, but that's sort of like a zipline off the bridge. Then of course we have Bridge Walk, too. You can go and walk on the catwalk underneath the bridge and watch the BASE jumpers jump from that perspective.”
On top of the bridge, food vendors will be on hand to keep everyone walking across the over 3,000 feet-long bridge full. Wriston said one of her favorite things to do on the bridge doesn't require any movement at all.
“I like to stand back and look at the bridge. You see the bridge is weaving up and down, and then you can see that its weaving from left to right. Of course, that's the way it was constructed.”
Several other events are taking place away from the bridge. The annual Taste of Bridge Day at Adventures on the Gorge will have local food, artwork and live music Oct. 20 from 5-9.
For more music, Bridge Jam 2017 will run Oct. 20 and 21 on the Cascade Festival Grounds at the former Gaines Estate. Headlining acts this year include southern rock group The Georgia Satellites, bluegrass band The Hillbenders and eclectic group The Native Howl.
While some locals can become annoyed with the closure of U.S. Route 19 near the bridge, Wriston said the economic impact Bridge Day has on West Virginia is worth it.
“Bridge Day is sort of the last economic booster shot for the area. Because we go into our winter season. This is what sort of gets everybody through the seasonal type of businesses into the spring. Because we don't have a lot of tourists that come through in the winter season.”
The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce said motorists should avoid U.S. Route 19, especially between Oak Hill and Summersville, for the entire day. Police will close the bridge at 7 in the morning and it will not reopen until 5 that evening under any circumstances. A shuttle service will be available to help get people to and from the bridge.