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Saturday, October 21, 2000 -- Fayetteville, WV
New River Gorge Bridge Day Festival
Story and photos by Beth Herr

[Details] [Coverage]

Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6]

Bridge Day
Another good landing by the New River
Suppose a group of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you join them? If you attended the annual New River Bridge Day, the answer would be most evident. Now in its 21st year, Bridge Day has become one of the most popular festivals in the United States. It commemorates the 1977 completion of what is considered the world's largest single arch bridge. Home to the world's second oldest river, the New River is celebrated as some of the best whitewater in the country, and one of the most appealing sites for skydivers.

Spanning the immense gorge, the bridge provides an excellent arena for rappelling or BASE-jumping. BASE is an acronym for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth - the fixed objects from which these men and women jump. Any such activity is prohibited on the New River Bridge 364 days of the year. The one day a year, which is the third Saturday of October, remains the one exception. This year, on October 21 the more than estimated 150,000 spectators and jumpers gathered to watch or take to the air. Route 19 in Fayetteville swelled with vehicles and people as everyone tried to make their way through the endless parked cars.

Bridge Day
Launching from the New River Bridge
Jumping began at 9AM this year, an hour earlier than last, in order to facilitate the numerous jumpers. In fact, so great is the demand to jump that people came from as far as Denmark and Australia to take the plunge. A number of the states were also represented. For the most part, those taking part were veteran jumpers, and this was not their first time at Bridge Day. One such aficionado named Howard hailed from California. This was his 16th year off the bridge.

The day was perfect for the jumping, with only a slight breeze on the bridge. This made landings easier and more exact for the target contest. Below the bridge, a large white target donned the shore of river left. Those entered in the contest angled to land directly in the middle. Although, more than a fair share of divers landed behind the target in the trees or short in the water, where safety boats and personnel awaited to pluck them out. One such gentleman took a completely wrong turn and touched down the opposite side of the river, on the railroad tracks. However, the water was the evident landing zone for the few who free fell. The longest of the day was an 8.8 second drop.

Bridge Day
The cameras were rolling
Another element included in the judging was the aerobatics. Though many simply held their breath and lurched over the edge, others performed tricks and flips, handstands and spins. Mostly, such theatrics were large crowd pleasers as well as technically advantageous. One man took what can be considered the largest leap by proposing to his girlfriend before his jump. After an effortless float through the air he stuck his landing, then got down on one knee. To the cheering of the crowd, she accepted.

While some jumped individually, groups were not uncommon. I guess the old saying can go "the family that jumps together, stays together," as more than one family took their turn hurdling over the edge at once. As the last ten minutes of Bridge Day ticked away, there was an attempt to break the world record for the largest simultaneous jump. Fifteen men and women lined up across the bridge, trying to give each other ample room to fly. This could be a disasterous undertaking should their shutes get too close. Although the record was not broken, the sight was no less thrilling to watch then if it had been.

Bridge Day
A mass jump
To complete the day, there were more than 200 vendors on either side of the bridge. They came from just as far as the jumpers. Jane Burke of the New River Convention and Visitors Bureau explained all the spots had been sold by mid-August. The booths contained everything from food, whitewater info and gear to local and non-local crafts or trinkets commemorating the day.

So whether you came to eat, buy, fly, or swim, Bridge Day 2000 continued in true West Virginian style. In the years to come, who knows what records could be broken. Consider this your double-dog-dare.

Much appreciation goes out to all the safety and law enforcement officials who made this years festival safe and enjoyable for the many spectators and participants. They include, but are not limited to Chris Dragan and his crew, the Bridge Day Association, and the National Park Service. Thanks also go out to Valerie Rice for all of her help.