Fayette County and southern West Virginia will throw a big party this weekend for old and new friends alike.
The 39th Bridge Day™ weekend will be staged on Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20. Bridge Day, which features events to commemorate the building of the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, is annually held the third Saturday of October.
Even after being involved with the operation of 20 prior Bridge Days and being director of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce since 2003, Sharon Cruikshank say organizers can always learn from the event.
In 2017, she said an issue that continually popped up was the official hours of Bridge Day.
For the record, the two north-bound lanes of the bridge are closed to allow pedestrian traffic, BASE jumping and rappelling activities, and vendors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. While local traffic is re-routed beginning at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, and the entire bridge and surrounding U.S. Rte. 19 area is closed to all but emergency and/or event-specific traffic for a while afterwards as it is cleared for re-opening to normal traffic patterns by 5 p.m. on Saturday, the hours of the event itself are limited to the official six-hour window of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Last year, we learned we need to make people more aware that the hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.," said Cruikshank, the chairman of the Bridge Day Commission.
Shuttles taking individuals to the bridge are cut off around 2 p.m., Cruikshank said, with 1:30 p.m. being the optimal goal.
Every year, however, individuals hoping to squeeze in a few minutes on the bridge sometimes walk through the gates as the 3 p.m. hour rapidly approaches. "Even if they come at 2:30 p.m., it's very challenging to get to the bridge in time," said Cruikshank.
As the day winds down, vendors must have their spaces cleared as close to 3 p.m. as possible. "Sales must be completed at the vendors by 3 p.m.," said Cruikshank. "They need to get the bridge re-opened by 5 p.m."
Due to cooperation and hard work from a lot of people and organizations, that happens, she said. "It's really challenging to get the bridge re-opened, but they (W.Va. Dept. of Highways, law enforcement agencies, etc.) do such an amazing job," she said. "There are so many moving parts of Bridge Day."
For more on Bridge Day, visit www.officialbridgeday.com.
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The best way to get to the bridge Saturday is to take a shuttle. Park your car and, for $3 (round-trip), you can be dropped off at the Bridge Day entrance.
Shuttles can be caught at the following locations:
• Fayette Landing Shopping Center (565 Mall Rd., Oak Hill, WV 25901)
The bus stop will be located on the south side of the median just past AT&T, at the far end of the median from the store.
• Fayetteville Wal-Mart (204 Town Center, Fayetteville, WV 25840)
The bus stop will be located at the far left side of WalMart.
• Fayetteville High School (515 W. Maple Ave., Fayetteville, WV 25840)
The bus stop is right at the entrance to the gravel parking area. The buses turn around in front of the school and stop to pick up at the entrance to the upper gravel area.
• Fayette County Court House (100 N. Court St., Fayetteville, WV 25840)
The bus stop will be across from the Courthouse on Maple Avenue in front of Marathon Bicycle and Southside Junction.
• Smales Branch Road (1175 Smales Branch Rd., Hico, WV 25854)
The bus will stop in front of the Lighthouse Worship Center.
• Midland Trail High School (U.S. Route 60, Hico, WV 25854)
The bus will stop at the school parking lot.
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Following are some rules that will be enforced for the bridge on Saturday:
• No dogs
• No backpacks, coolers, folding chairs or large handbags.
• No bicycles, skates, skateboards or wagons. You may ride your bike and leave it at the Active SWV bike valet, but no bikes are allowed on the bridge.
• No weapons, fireworks, illegal drugs or alcoholic beverages.
• No quadcopters/drones.
• Fold-up strollers are allowed, but will be searched at the gate.
• The bridge/U.S. Route 19 will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Commercial traffic is detoured away from Fayetteville, and local traffic is directed to Rte. 16 and Rte. 60.
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Bridge Day notes:
• In addition to sampling the products/information offered by a variety of vendors on either side of the bridge, spectators also get the chance Saturday to walk the bridge and view the fall colors, see the BASE jumpers take their death-defying leaps from the bridge, or perhaps get a glimpse of the rappellers who are dangling from the catwalk underneath the world-famous span.
According to Cruikshank, BASE jumpers will once again utilize a 40-foot scissors lift and a catapult as a means to hurtle off the bridge, as well as a new swing method. The diving board will not be used, she said.
As of last week, over 300 jumpers, including staff, had registered to jump.
• Paid shuttles that transport people down into the gorge to watch the activities are sold out for this year, but a waiting list is already started for 2019. Only approved vehicles are allowed to drive down into the gorge. Bicycles can be ridden down, but you are reminded that the entire round trip is approximately 8 miles, with an uphill climb for the return trip.
• Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge, and 2019 will mark the 40th anniversary of Bridge Day itself. While the Fayette Plateau Chamber of Commerce staged a small precursor to Bridge Day in October 1979, the first named Bridge Day occurred in November 1980 and has been held since, including the Spirit of Bridge Day in 2001, which was staged in lieu of the bigger event due to the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Cruikshank said plans are already being made for special activities to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the event next year.
• Food Lion joins the W.Va. Division of Tourism as a title sponsor of the festival. Adventures on the Gorge has been a big supporter, as well, Cruikshank noted.
• For much more on Bridge Day, visit www.officialbridgeday.com or call 1-304-465-5617.
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