The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

April 2, 2014

Moving NRG Bridge? April Fools’ Day prank draws national attention

FAYETTEVILLE — If you fell victim to a clever April Fools’ Day joke announcing the required dismantling and relocation of Fayetteville’s New River Gorge Bridge on Tuesday, rest assured that you weren’t the only gullible party.

The joke, in the shape of a press release, took the web by storm Tuesday. Disseminated by ACE Adventure Resort, the press release — accompanied by a Photoshopped image of the bridge — stated: “Due to the destruction of the West Virginia mudrat habitat, a protected and endangered species, the West Virginia Department of Thoroughfares and National Board of Parks have unveiled a plan to move the New River Gorge Bridge, the most photographed landmark in West Virginia.”

While neither the agencies mentioned nor the “mudrat” species actually exist, the press release presented some very compelling supporting evidence that could hoodwink even the sharpest of tacks.

“The Environmental Protection Association and the New River Institute (NRI) have been lobbying for the protection of this rodent’s natural habitat for decades, unbeknownst to local residents,” the faux release stated.

Much like the aforementioned agencies, the “New River Institute” was also completely contrived by ACE’s prankster marketing department. The same can be said for Professor Lionel Compton, but ‘his’ quote served well to appeal to emotion:

“The rarely spotted animal is nearly all tail and teeth and is known to cannibalize itself when its habitat is unsuitable for reproduction, according to professor Lionel Compton of the NRI,” the release stated.

“People who might question the case for moving the bridge need only look into the eyes of a mudrat that’s considering cannibalism, and I think they’ll change their minds,” Compton said.

Hilarity aside, who couldn’t help but feel a little compassion for the imaginary species and its dwindling population?

The release, which was posted both on ACE’s website blog and its Facebook page, had been shared more than 260 times as of 5:30 p.m.

Heidi Prior, social media manager for ACE, said that ACE’s marketing team was extremely surprised by the amount of buzz the story generated.

The Blaze, a popular news, information and opinion website, ranked the gag among its top 10 list of the best April Fools’ Day prank stories circulating the Internet this year. Also on the list was a U.K. Metro story reporting that the British government planned to ban selfies, and The Huffington Post’s story reporting that CNN’s Piers Morgan would be a consultant for Britain’s Liberal Democrats in the next election.

“When we saw The Blaze had picked it up, we realized it had gotten bigger than we originally thought,” Prior said. “Our website traffic is at least four times more than we see on a given day and growing. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Prior said that ACE’s marketing team, including Trish Morgan, Brandi Warwick, Yulanda Wiseman, Rick Bays and director Beth Gill, spent the last two weeks developing the joke’s concept.

While Bays gets credit for developing the concept of an endangered “woodrat,” Prior admitted that the “mudrat” variation resulted from her initially mishearing him.

“We immediately all agreed that mudrat was a lot funnier, so we went with it,” Prior laughed.

David Sibray, publisher of West Virginia Explorer and a public relations consultant, helped polish up the team’s prepared news release to make it seem credible, Prior said.

Prior said that April Fools’ Day pranks are an annual event at ACE because the whole company is about having fun.

“Last year we said that the New River was going to have to be completely drained in order for rafters to be able to get their sunglasses, wedding rings and other lost belongings,” Prior said.

“It’s a tradition for us, so we usually get a pretty big kick out of it. Reading comments on Facebook has been really quite funny.”

To view the fake press release online, visit www.aceraft.com/west-virginia-white-water-blog/ or find ACE Adventure Resort on Facebook.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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