The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 17, 2013

Who knew?

The Register-Herald

— When construction of the New River Gorge Bridge was finished and it opened in 1977, we all celebrated the fact that the span would allow us to get from “over here” to “over yonder” a lot faster than we had previously.

For years, the bridge with a 1,700-foot arch was the world’s longest steel single-span arch bridge. It still ranks an impressive fourth.

At 876 feet above the New River, it was the highest vehicular bridge in the world, only bested in 2004 by the Millau Viaduct in France. Several bridges in China now tower above both of those engineering feats when it comes to height.

But our $37 million bridge isn’t going to be topped as one of the most unusual engines of economic development in the world.

It was in 1980 when we marked the first New River Gorge Bridge Day, with seven parachutists leaping from bridge to bottom, according to the Bridge Day website.

Some 5,500 certificates were issued for the less adventurous that day, folks who preferred to walk across instead of fly.

Things have changed, and we think they’ve changed for the better.

Last year, a crowd estimated at 75,000 people attended Bridge Day, to watch some 450 BASE jumpers, 19 teams of rappellers and some jumpers catapulting themselves off the bridge to float to earth via parachute.

But the day has attracted corporate attention as well. Energy-drink giant Red Bull is sponsoring demonstrations of BMX riders on the bridge’s south side on Saturday, and electronics giant Sony will roll out its new Action Cam, a wearable point-of-view camera.

Sony is launching its “Action Cam Selfie” sweepstakes, where folks can win one of five Sony Action Cams by posting a “selfie” photo or video of their most extreme Extreme Sports moment.

When major corporations recognize what you’ve got and want to be part of it, you’ve really got something. And we think we do, too.

We can expect another 75,000 people to attend this Saturday: Kids, parents, grandparents, all in one place, where for one day, the New River Gorge Bridge is the center of the universe for Extreme Sports.

The bridge was designed to get southern West Virginians from Point A to Point B with a lot less drive-time. We doubt anybody anticipated what the bridge would become, at least for one day out of the year.

We have to wonder what other undiscovered or even unseen economic development gems we have around here, the kind that can bring 75,000 people together in one scenic spot for a day.

Let’s all keep our eyes open for the next one.