Bridge Day at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in Fayetteville, West Virginia, is a festival that encapsulates West Virginia's slogan 'Wild and Wonderful.' This spectacular event occurs annually on the third Saturday in October amidst the scenic Autumn backdrop of the New River Gorge and its iconic Bridge. Not only is it West Virginia's largest one-day festival, but it's the largest extreme sports event in the world. It pays tribute to the world's third-longest single-arch bridge—a marvel of engineering that spans 3,030 feet across the New River Gorge, holding the title of being the longest of its type across the Western Hemisphere.
At an imposing 876-foot above the New River, this towering bridge is closed to traffic for the day, and hundreds of food and craft merchants transform the roadway into a bustling marketplace. This extraordinary spectacle draws a staggering crowd of 100,000+ onlookers and takes pride in being the world's oldest and biggest organized BASE jumping extravaganza.
The thousands of spectators congregate in anticipation, their eyes trained on the daredevils preparing to plunge into the stunning canyon that sprawls majestically below.
How it Began
Construction on the bridge started in 1974, and with the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge on October 22, 1977, a significant transportation issue was solved. The bridge replaced a lengthy 45-minute drive through treacherous mountain roads with a crossing that now takes less than a minute and dramatically improved accessibility.
The bridge, an architectural marvel, and an engineering triumph has become one of West Virginia's most photographed landmarks. It was chosen to represent the state on the U.S. Mint's commemorative quarter in 2006 and is featured on a United States postage stamp. It is a National Engineering Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service in 2013 due to its historical importance. As recently as 2021, its contribution to making a gorgeous yet inaccessible wilderness area into a popular tourist destination led to the reclassification of New River Gorge National River to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
the danger increases significantly since BASE jumping is done from fixed structures at typically lower altitudes with only one parachute.
In 1978, Carl Boenish played a pivotal role in shaping modern BASE jumping by filming jumps from El Capitan using ram-air parachutes and the freefall tracking technique. Even though BASE jumps had occurred before this, the El Capitan event marked the inception of what is known as BASE jumping today. Post-1978, these filmed jumps were recreated not for publicity or film stunts but purely for recreation, significantly contributing to BASE jumping's growing popularity among parachutists.
It was clear that the timing could not have been more perfect. BASE jumping was in its infancy, with news reports of a few daredevils leaping off all sorts of iconic buildings and structures becoming commonplace. Naturally, it wouldn't be long before someone decided to make their mark by jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge.
That person was Burton Ervin. A Korean War Army veteran and West Virginia coal miner of 42 years, he took the unexpected leap into history on the night of August 17, 1979. Little did he know that his daring abet illegal parachute jump from the towering New River Gorge Bridge would pave the way for future thrill seekers.
The following year, 1980, witnessed the birth of Bridge Day. This annual tradition has grown into the beloved West Virginia event it is today.
Mr Ervin, who passed away just two days before the 2017 Bridge Day, was posthumously honored as the "Father of Bridge Day" on July 16, 2022. A sign telling his story is now on display at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce (310 W Oyler Ave, Oak Hill, WV), just a few miles from where he made parachuting history.
Since its inception, Fayette County has consistently transformed into a bustling hub for adventure enthusiasts, vendors, and interested tourists. The only deviations from this trend were observed in 2001, following the tragic events of 9/11, and the recent years of 2020-2021 due to the widespread impact of COVID-19. Nevertheless, this vibrant festival continues to attract many people who come together to revel in its festivities.
Into the Gorge
You can feel the thrill of the BASE jumpers in the gorge when they achieve an impeccable landing. However, some landings may involve water, while others might not be as successful.
Thankfully, this BASE jumper was not injured in this crash but it had the potential to be a serious accident.
Want More Adventure?
Bridge Day offers several exciting activities:
The Bridge Walk is perfect for the fearless who have no qualms with heights. While it's open throughout the year, on Bridge Day, it provides a unique perspective of the BASE jumpers as you walk underneath the New River Gorge Bridge treading along the narrow catwalk within its tresses.
The High Line activity is exclusive to Bridge Day, offering an exhilarating experience under the bridge. A trained professional will manage your speed and descent as you zip from under the bridge's catwalk, dropping approximately 700 feet starting from under the bridge to Fayette Station Road below.
For extreme thrill-seekers, jumping off the bridge is an option too! However, due to safety regulations for independent jumps, only experienced individuals can make this leap. But don't worry if you're not experienced but still keen on this daring feat - a professional can accompany you in a Bridge Day tandem jump!
Know Before You Go
For more information about Bridge Day, visit the Official Bridge Day website and GoGorge for a digital copy of the New River Gorge Visitors Guide.
Also, check out my other post about the New River Gorge area:
From Boomtown to Ghost Town: The Rise and Fall of Thurmond, WV
Not every image makes it into my blog. You can find more of my Bridge Day images here. If you enjoyed the images in this article, please check out my West Virginia Collection for more photos of the rest of the state, or visit my Gallery with over 3000 images of locations from around the United States.
About the Photographer
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
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