The invitations have been sent.

Now, it's time to tidy up the living room and get ready for guests.

The annual Bridge Day™ celebration is set for Saturday, Oct. 19, in Fayette County. This year will mark a special day for the popular event, as the 40th anniversary of Bridge Day will be celebrated by the coordinating Bridge Day Commission.

The New River Gorge Bridge was officially opened and dedicated on Oct. 22, 1977, while the first official Bridge Day was held on Nov. 8, 1980. Setting the tone for future expansion, the first festival featured vendors and BASE jumpers, as well as spectators taking advantage of the opportunity to walk legally across the span. According to www.officialbridgeday.com, two parachutists jumped from a plane onto the bridge, and five parachutists jumped from the bridge into the gorge.

According to Sharon Cruikshank, outgoing chairman of the Bridge Day Commission, a special 40th anniversary booklet which features "a lot of the history, a lot of the timeline from past years, a lot of the highlights" will be available this year. It will cost $5, and its production is limited. 

Expected to be ready next week, the booklet will be available for purchase at the Fayette County Chamber/New River Gorge CVB office on Oyler Avenue in Oak Hill. It also will be sold on the bridge on Bridge Day as long as supplies last.

Also for sale this year will be anniversary pins and anniversary tumblers.

"Like always, I'm looking forward to having a safe event, sunshine and 70 degrees," said Cruikshank. "I think that's always my main concern is that everybody stay safe and have a good time."

While no other special activities will be associated with this year's festival in honor of the anniversary, many of the popular staples from years past will return. About 300 BASE jumpers and staff have registered to take the death-defying leap from the bridge to the canyon floor below, which is always a top draw for the event. Also, over 300 rappellers representing 27 teams will dangle from the bridge underbelly. The rappel squads will include one led by Fayette County native Debra Parker, who will guide the first all-female team for Bridge Day.

As people from near and far take part in their respective outdoor passions, a wide array of vendors will offer items for sale on both ends of the north-bound lanes of the bridge.

"We have a nice selection of vendors, and they (vending spots) are almost sold out," said Cruikshank.

Other activities making their return that day will be the Bridge Day 5K Run, which will begin at 9:15 a.m. and will take competitors across the south-bound side of the New River Gorge Bridge toward their final destination in downtown Fayetteville. Active Southern West Virginia is the race presenter, and WVU Tech is the event sponsor. For full details and to register, visit https://activeswv.org/racerinfo/. Or, call 304-254-8488, email info@activeswv.com or visit www.activeswv.org.

Downtown Fayetteville will also be the home base once again for a chili cookoff and cornbread competition and live music by Black Garlic courtesy of the Historic Fayetteville CVB as Bridge Day progresses. Craft beer also will be sold on site. For more details, visit www.visitfayettevillewv.com or call 304-574-1500.

Other musical acts also are scheduled throughout the weekend at The Grove and at The Rendezvous Adventures on the Gorge.

The Bridge Day Car Show will be held at the Gorge Gateway Center on Laurel Creek Road from 12 to 4 p.m. (registration begins at 10 a.m.)

The Fun Factory will have EuroBungy on the bridge on Bridge Day, Cruikshank noted. According to the company website, EuroBungy offers a "super-bouncing bungee trampoline experience." Participants can vault into the air while "safely and securely harnessed."

Providing another outlet for some of that excess energy on the bridge that day will be Adventures on the Gorge's climbing wall.

To get things started for the weekend and satisfy the taste buds, the 18th annual Taste of Bridge Day will be presented by the Canyon Rim Rotary Club from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18 at Adventures on the Gorge in Lansing. Participants can sample a variety of tasty dishes from several of the region's best restaurants. The Common Houses Band will perform.

• • • 

A couple of veterans and a newbie are among those at the core of planning Bridge Day 2019.

"It's gone well," said Becky Sullivan, who will take over when Cruikshank — the new Fayetteville mayor — leaves her chamber and CVB post on Oct. 22. "I've been training with Sharon since Aug. 1, and we dove right into Bridge Day organization, planning and activities, and just being the eyes and the ears and helping out along the way.

"I grew up in Fayetteville, so I've attended Bridge Day. And I worked with Visit Southern West Virginia, and we were vendors for nine years, so I've been on the vendor side of it. But this is my first year being on this side of it, of course. I didn't realize all the components that go into Bridge Day."

Cruikshank has worked 22 Bridge Days overall, starting out on the CVB end before taking over as chamber director in 2003. "On Bridge Day, it's all hands on deck, whether with the chamber or CVB, we all worked it," she said.

"(Longtime Fayette chamber volunteer) Jane Burk trained me, and I've been trying to bring her spirit into things as I'm trying to show Becky the ropes," she said. The key, she said, is "to always stand by what you're doing, treat everybody the same ... (while adhering to) the rules."

"I am taking it all in and learning how things are done," said Sullivan. "Over the next year, I'll have time to go in and maybe tweak some things, maybe not tweak some things."

Mandy Wriston, Cruikshank's assistant and media specialist for the chamber/CVB the past six years, will also make the 2019 Bridge Day her curtain call as she departs to pursue her doctorate.

"Bridge Day's been my favorite festival since I've been in junior high, so it's bittersweet," Wriston said.

Cruikshank admits her final time behind the scenes with Bridge Day has been emotional. "It's bittersweet, like Mandy said," said Cruikshank.

• • • 

Notes:

• While road closures and bridge-related detours begin at 7 a.m. on Oct. 19, official Bridge Day hours during which individuals can legally walk across the bridge itself fall only during the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. window. U.S. Rte. 19 re-opens in the immediate vicinity at 5 p.m.

• The Bridge Day poster this year was designed by Oak Hill resident Josh Adams, a graphic designer and illustrator employed by Digital Relativity in Fayetteville.

• Paid-for seats on shuttle buses to get to the bottom to watch the activities are sold out. To get on a waiting list, call 304-465-5617 or visit www.officialbridgeday.com.

• Speaking of shuttles, those going to Bridge Day can park at one of several locations and catch bus shuttles for a $3 round-trip cost and be deposited within a short walk of the festival gates. For a listing of the designated parking areas on either side of the bridge, or for more information in other areas, visit www.officialbridgeday.com.

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

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