A unique and popular way to enjoy the engineering marvel known as the New River Gorge Bridge will be up and running on May 23.

Bridge Walk, which allows guided tours on the 2-foot-wide catwalk underneath the world-famous span, will resume operations on Saturday following a lengthy break due to COVID-19.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were three tours scheduled for Saturday and three or four more booked for Sunday, according to managing member Benjy Simpson. Simpson expects more adventurous folks for Memorial Day Monday.

While hoping his guests enjoy the beauty of southern West Virginia and the thrill — or trepidation — of peering down into the gorge below, Simpson says safety will be the primary concern as the company gets cranked back up.

"All guests and staff will be required to wear masks and gloves and maintain social distancing during their tours," he said. The mask requirement is nonnegotiable. "If people come up and say they don't want to wear a mask, they don't go," Simpson said.

The lone exception to the social distancing scenario will be that a family of three or four which arrives in the same car can be a little closer together but not within the 6-foot safety area of the guide or other guests. And they still must wear masks and gloves.

Simpson said the aim is to do smaller tours so "we don't have mixed groups."

Also, at least in the early stages of the reopening phase, Bridge Walk staff will meet guests outside to register and prepare for the transport to the bridge. The store will be closed, and no restrooms will be available. "It's going to be an evolving process," he said. "There are a lot of unknowns."

Prices will remain the same as they were before the pandemic.

"Bridge Walk has 18-plus staff ranging in age from 17 to 72, more females than males," said Simpson. That includes two staffers in their 70s. "Several of us are likely to get COVID-19. Our staff and guests are both our priority and responsibility. We have had over 50,000-plus Bridge Walk guests without an accident or injury. We are doing everything we can to minimize the risk."

Simpson said some employees expressed concerns about the many variables associated with resuming business during the current health crisis. Being in the EMT field and in outdoor recreation for so many years, he admitted, "I'm concerned."

All tours will be booked in advance online at office@bridgewalk.com or by phone at 304-574-1300. If individuals are able, they are asked to download and fill out the liability release form ahead of time and bring it with them.

In 2019, Bridge Walk drew customers from 49 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 45 countries.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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