The Bridge’s 40th Birthday Party — Saturday, October 19th
From the rush of leaping off the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge to the smell of funnel cake wafting across the vast span, the people of Fayetteville—joined by BASE jumpers from across the world—have been celebrating the “birthday” of the New River Gorge Bridge for the past 40 years.
This year, the ruckus birthday party falls on Saturday, October 19. From 9am to 3pm you will find the New River Gorge Bridge closed to vehicle traffic as a massive crowd gathers to celebrate, explore booths from vendors, eat fair-style food, and most important of all, watch the famous BASE jumpers make the plunge from the bridge.
And, while the event has fluctuated in numbers of jumpers and spectators, the heart of the grassroots festival hasn’t changed much in all these years, said Mark Kissner, one of the event BASE jumping co-organizers who has been making the leap every fall since 1998.
“The only thing the jumpers care about is getting to jump and the spectators come to watch the jumpers,” Kissner said. “That’s the biggest draw unless you like a lot of deep-fried foods—which a lot of people do—but the jumping is definitely the big show.”
Since its infancy, Bridge Day has been the largest BASE jumping event in the world.
“The history of BASE jumping started only a few years before Bridge Day started and there were BASE jumpers at the very first Bridge Day,” Kissner said. “From there, literally within a couple years, there were hundreds of jumpers.”
While the number of spectators has grown to exceed 100,000, the number of jumpers is capped at 400. But, for the small, extreme sport, the regular 300 to 400 jumper turnout is huge.
“It has always been the biggest BASE event in the world,” Kissner said. “It is a big, tall, fun object and it is an ongoing event so if you get into BASE jumping chances are you’ll come to Bridge Day at least a few times.”
Plus, Bridge Day is the only day of the year you can legally jump from the bridge, which adds to the incentive.
Event organizers have kept things interesting by adding a scissor lift which lets BASE jumpers jump from 40 feet above the bridge (providing a better view for spectators and a different experience for jumpers) and this year there will be a 40-foot rope swing that extends off of a crane so jumpers can add yet another thrill to the jump.
While new innovative ways to launch off the bridge are a fun twist, Kissner said when it comes to the next 40 years, all that really matters is keeping the event alive—it has come up against challenges from locals and legislation in the past.
“Our only hope is that it just keeps going,” he said. “As long as there is always a Bridge Day and jumpers jumping at Bridge Day that would be the best thing that could happen.”
3 Ways to Avoid the Crowds and Get the Best Views on Bridge Day
Bridge Day is the world’s largest BASE jumping festival, and it not only attracts hundreds of BASE jumpers but more than 100,000 spectators. If that’s where you come in, don’t let yourself be caught up in the throngs of people trying to catch a glimpse of the jumpers as they leap, swing, or are catapulted from the bridge. Instead, plan ahead to position yourself at a better vantage point.
Watching the action from below allows you to see the jumper’s entire route as they plunge from the bridge, pull their chute, and land on the small beach below. Rather than just seeing the beginning of the leap as you do if you are on the bridge, you get to see everything.
How to get there: Some of the trails into the Gorge are closed for security reasons and roads are closed to private vehicles, but you can walk down the roads or take a shuttle down into the Gorge. To reserve a seat call the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce at 304-465-5617.
Looking for front row seats without battling the crowds? Even better than booking a shuttle to watch the jumpers from the base of the bridge is booking a rafting trip to watch the action from the river below. The classic New River Gorge rafting trip ends by passing straight under the iconic bridge span, and Bridge Day is no exception. Start your rafting trip eight miles upstream and get your own adrenaline rush charging through thrilling whitewater. Then, end your day by watching the Bridge Day revelry from the water.
How to get there: Go online or call an Adventure Specialist at 877-580-0708 to book a Bridge Day rafting trip—secure a spot in advance, spots fill up.
From the Rim
Escape the chaos but catch the views by watching the Bridge Day festivities from Adventures on the Gorge’s Canyon Rim deck. With two decks, a pool, and a restaurant overlooking the New River Gorge Bridge, you can relax at the resort while watching adrenaline junkies make the plunge.
How to get there: From the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, turn right on Route 19 and then turn left on Ames Heights Road. Turn left into the Adventures on the Gorge resort.