Once a year, the Western Hemisphere’s longest single-span arch bridge trades tires for feet and supports one of southern West Virginia’s biggest festivals on Bridge Day. Becoming a nexus for extreme sports, visitors can watch adrenaline junkies jump, zip and rappel from the bridge deck 876 feet above the ancient New River.
“For Fayetteville, Bridge Day means pride and economics,” says Benjy Simpson, Bridge Day Rappel Coordinator and managing member of Bridge Walk. “The whole state has pride for the bridge—it’s on our State Quarter…and with around 80,000 visitors this year, it’s an economic driver for the area.”
The first Bridge Day was held in 1980, where just five parachutists jumped from the deck to float to the river below. Nowadays, hundreds of BASE (Buildings, Antennae, Span and Earth) jumpers huck—and even catapult—themselves into the abyss while rappelers and zipliners use cables to get their fix. The self-proclaimed “troll under the bridge,” Simpson ensures participants make it safely down those cables. He has been involved with Bridge Day since 1987, a few years after he moved to Fayetteville to buy a rafting company.Fortunately for attendees, there were shuttles available from various locations in and around Fayetteville. There’s a lot of walking, so wearing comfortable shoes and socks is a must. With so much walking to be expected, visitors should also stay on top of hydration—especially if indulging in the sugary and salty festival fare offered by vendors.
The weather was spectacular for this year’s event. The fog burned off early and temperatures hit the mid-seventies by the afternoon. Visibility was great and base jumpers and their parachutes popped against the blue sky.
The north-bound lane of the bridge was open to pedestrian traffic, providing a once-a-year view of the gorge, Endless Wall and Long Point. Spectators coveted viewing spots against the railing, hanging heads over and soaking up the vertigo-inducing exposure as BASE jumpers plunge toward the raging river below.
The three best views come from the river (either on a raft or at Fayette Station), from the catwalk (access available through Bridge Walk), and from Longpoint (accessed from the Longpoint Trail off Gatewood Road). To reach the bottom of the gorge, Adventures on the Gorge offered shuttles from the north and south ends of the bridge down to Fayette Station.
Featured events throughout the weekend included Taste of Bridge Day, Bridge Day Chili Cook-Off, and the second annual Bridge Jam. With beautiful weather and a great turnout, this year event was a wild and wonderful success.