By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
Don’t look now, but that spectacular annual rite of fall passage in southern West Virginia — Bridge Day — is just around the corner.
The 34th annual event is set Oct. 19 on the world-famous New River Gorge Bridge, which recently was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the bridge will be shut down (except for event traffic on the two south-bound lanes), BASE jumpers will legally hurl themselves from the 876-foot-high span and teams of rappellers will dangle from the walkway underneath the bridge. At the same time, vendors will hawk a variety of products to tens of thousands of visitors.
To set the stage for Bridge Day, the popular WOAY Taste of Bridge Day — conducted by the Oak Hill and Fayetteville Rotary clubs — will be Oct. 18 at Smokey’s On The Gorge on Ames Heights Road.
After visitors, vendors and adventurers depart the imposing span Saturday, the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau will stage a chili and cornbread cookoff and music downtown. Wild Rumpus will perform from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the cookoff will be from 3 to 6 p.m.
Cindy Dragan, chair of the Bridge Day Commission, said that — while approaching hectic stage — planning for the event, which is sponsored by Subaru, Red Bull and Sony and many others, is going well.
The appeal — and reach — of Bridge Day continues to expand and trend upward, Dragan says.
“It’s really getting out there,” she said. “I’m always amazed at how many people who come who have never been there before.”
The social media explosion of the past few years has been the main factor in that, she said.
According to Dragan, the catapult created by Jason Bell of Vertical Visions, the Bridge Day BASE organizer, will return in 2013, allowing spectators to watch a select number of jumpers take their plunge into the gorge from a seat instead of the traditional platform. The spots for that activity are already taken, as are the available spots for tandem BASE jumps.
Among the new activities will be an Xpogo performance, which will feature individuals performing extreme stunts on pogo sticks. Those 20-minute shows will occur at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Also, Red Bull will have demonstrations involving BMX riders on the hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the bridge’s south side. The riders will be stationed in a roped-off area which spectators can bypass when they want to.
“We try to keep Bridge Day fresh,” said Dragan. “The people who come all the time want to see something different.”
-- Just last week, Bridge Day was designated as one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2014 by the American Bus Association. The Top 100 list will be published as a supplement to the September/October issue of Destinations magazine.
-- Among the vendors this year will be Tamarack artisans Turtle Ridge Farms, which produces alpaca yarn; The Merry Cat, with West Virginia scenes and notecards; and Kara Sharee’s, which sells paper bead jewelry.
-- Although time is running out, spots are still available for both the Hometown Subaru Into The Gorge Shuttles and the Glade Springs Down Under Tours.
Tickets for the Into The Gorge Shuttles cost $20 and will allow buyers to ride buses into and out of the gorge during the day. Individuals must go to the Bridge Day tent on either side of the bridge from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. that day to pick up their wristbands.
The Down Under Tours, done in coordination with the Women’s Resource Center, offer a more personal way to see the event from down in the gorge. Tickets cost $65, which covers transportation via van, a T-shirt, a box lunch and the chance to watch the jumpers and rappellers for a couple of hours.
Reservations for both are a must and can be made by calling the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce at 800-927-0263.
-- To continue to stress sustainability, food vendors this year will be required to serve hot and cold drinks which are not offered in bottles or cans, in compostable drink containers. According to Sharon Cruikshank, vendor coordinator, “Bridge Day is committed to helping reduce environmental waste and promoting sustainability.”
The company Green Paper Products is providing the hot or cold cups to vendors free of charge.
Once again, official Bridge Day T-shirts will be provided by SustainU, and Boy Scout Troop 149, of Fayetteville, and the Fayette County Green Advisory Team will collect cardboard from vendors to be recycled.
-- Among the other weekend events will be the 25th anniversary Fayette County National Bank Bridge Car Show, which will be at the Gorge Gateway Center.
-- The Beckley-based Derby Dames will man donation barrels on both ends of the bridge “to help us keep Bridge Day a free event,” Dragan said. The Dames will share in the proceeds.
-- For more information on any of the activities, call 304-465-5617 or 800-927-0263 or visit www.officialbridgeday.com.
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