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Bridge Day 2010 is in the Books at New River Gorge National River


Jumpers at previous year's Bridge Day events. NPS photos.

On one day each October since 1980, thousands of people have happily accepted the invitation to "take a flying leap" from the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere. The 31st annual Bridge Day was held on October 16, 2010, at New River Gorge National River in West Virginia.

This event is a big draw for fans of BASE jumping; "BASE" is an acronym for "building, antenna, span, earth," the fixed objects from which these jumpers leap with their 'chutes for what's hoped to be a controlled descent. Officials estimated attendance last weekend to be somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 people.

According to a park spokesperson, Highway 19 was shut down for about nine hours while visitors watched over 400 base jumpers make a total of just over 1000 jumps; 22 rappel teams also performed about 100 rappels. The base jumping time window, normally about six hours, was extended an additional half hour after Governor Joe Manchin, who attended the event, requested an extension due to early morning fog delays.

The size of the crowd, relatively remote location and the potential for injuries make this a rather complex event, which was managed under a unified incident command team that included over 20 federal, state and local agencies. More than 50 National Park Service employees from all divisions were assigned to the event.

The good news is that this year's event was relatively free of incidents. There were four ambulance transports to local hospitals resulting from base jumping injuries—one fractured arm, one fractured ankle, one knee injury, and one jumper who waited almost seven seconds to deploy his chute and suffered pelvis, back and chest injuries.

One rescuer received a serious avulsion injury while helping a base jumper who landed in a tree and was transported, and two visitors were transported to hospitals due to illness. One other base jumper was treated and released at the scene, as was one of the people participating in the bridge rappel.

The New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977. It is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere (3,030 feet) and the second highest in the United States (876 feet). The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce has hosted Bridge Day on the third Saturday of October in every year since 1980—the only day that visitors may walk across the bridge, and, by special dispensation from Congress, the only day that base jumpers may jump in a National Park Service area.


It was a great day to be on the Bridge!

We attended this event this year and it was fantastic! It was incredible to watch the jumpers. Our only complaint was the "crowd control" issues at the line to get in before the bridge opened. We were about the 50th person in line (got there very early) and by the time the bridge opened we were about the 600th person in line. There was a nice line that people were doing relatively well standing in and then the shuttle buses dropped all the people off right at the entrance and so then the line became chaos and people who got there an hour after us went in first! Not a big deal on getting in but the event did have 200 tickets for sale to be able to ride a shuttle to the bottom of the gorge (200 out of the estimated 125,000 people isn't great odds) so it was important for us to get in early. Other than the crowd control issues (and not a lot of communication between all the people running the event) it was a great day. Rafted down the river the next day and had a super weekend. Tree Top Canopy Tour was great as well but that was outside of the park...

Bridge Day was great. We go every year for the last 5 years and can't wait till next year. Fall colors are beautiful this year. Love West Virginia!

im dissapointed why are there no pics of rappellers they pay twice as much and hang the banners no one even knows they are there not even mentioned in the papers

The 22 teams of rappellers is correct, but the overall number of rappels is grossly incorrect.

Our team of 11 people completed 37 rappels this year, and that leaves 22 other teams with 10-15 people per team who also participated...

In response to rappeller...

I think because the people on top of the bridge can't see you guys, there isn't as much "press" about you. We had the wonderful opportunity to watch the days events from the bottom and it was great watching you!! I've posted some pictures of both rappellers and jumpers on the national park flickr site.

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