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Bridge Day 2017

Bridge Day 2017

Elijah Morgan, Staff Writer

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Ready. Set. Jump. West Virginia is home to some incredibly adventurous events but none gets your adrenaline pumping quite like that of the annual Bridge Day event held at the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. This year, 2017, marked the 38th year that jumpers from across the globe headed to the “coolest small town” to get their kicks by jumping off the 876-foot-tall, single span steel arch bridge down to the New River below.

The fog was thick on the morning of October 21st as select Beckley-Stratton Middle School newspaper staffers walked across the famous bridge to see jumpers getting prepared to take a leap of faith into the abyss. The BEST Times Newspaper advisors, Mrs. Harlan and Ms. Pettry, along with staffers Dante Bowman, Daniel Dickenson and myself, Elijah Morgan, were afforded the opportunity to experience this year’s Bridge Day unlike anyone else.  With press passes provided by Digital Relativity, we got to walk out onto the bridge with the first round of jumpers and it felt like “almost heaven.”

While out on the bridge, staffers interviewed jumpers and got to learn about the ins and outs of the day’s events. Men and women from near and far where checking their parachutes, practicing jump techniques and were getting hyped with their friends while waiting in the jump line. The bridge was open at 7 o’clock in the morning to only the set-up crew for the exit point, the media and for the first round of jumpers to start off the day.

Along with us for the day was Erica Rupp who works for Snap Chat. Rupp flew in from L.A. that morning just to capture the energy and excitement of Bridge Day. Throughout the day, she would scout out the most hyped up jumpers, ask them questions while videoing them for the snap story on the Explorer page. The event got so many views that it was on the Discovery page by the end of the day and even featured us a few times.

In order for a jumper to complete a BASE jump from the exit point atop The New River Gorge Bridge, they must be experienced and have previously completed a minimum of 100 parachute jumps. A BASE jump can happen from four different platforms; buildings, antennas, span (bridge) and Earth. This year’s event showcased 340 BASE jumpers who were all coordinated by local jumper Marcus Ellison.

Ellison led off Bridge Day 2017 by being the first jumper of the morning. He was fearless as he did a backflip off the exit point. This was his 10th year BASE jumping at Bridge Day but his first year ever taking the number one slot of the days event. “It’s easy to recruit base jumpers; if you give these guys a platform that’s legal, they show up,” Ellison explained.

If jumping solo isn’t your thing, tandem is the way to go. A tandem BASE jumper is someone who wants to jump but isn’t trained enough or hasn’t met the minimum jump requirement. They will be paired with professional jumper who has jumped for many years. Jumper Sandy Vale said it was easy to sign up; “first go to the official Bridge Day Website, fill out your paperwork, pay and then you call from a jump team from Idaho.” Vale was a first-time jumper at this year’s event.

The action on Bridge Day isn’t limited to on top of the bridge; visitors can take a walk on the wild side by getting rigged up to experience the Bridge Walk underneath this famous structure. Benjy Simpson, owner of Bridge Walk, took members of The BEST Times Newspaper on the walk of their lives and gave us the chance to interview a few rapellers. Blaze Striker held his composure while he stood on the ibeam supporting the bridge and simply stated that he does this “because it’s a good time.”

Aside from watching the jumpers or taking a death defying walk under the bridge, visitors to the event could enjoy a multitude of vendors which line each side of the street leading up to the bridge. The National Guard, Visit Southern West Virginia Magazine, SustainU, Fayette County National Bank, and many more where there to gain a presence. Alongside those mentioned were various food venders such as Bojangles, Beef Jerky Outlet, and West Virginia Smoked Bar-B-Q.

P.J. Stevens with Adventures on The Gorge was kind enough to take some time and speak with us about the many activities they offer locals and visitors alike. “We offer white water rafting, ZIP lining, hiking trails, and even a tour of New River itself,” said Stevens. The best part about it is that all those adventures are open to anyone who wants to walk on the wild side.

Ready for our own adventure on the gorge, we headed down to the media section on the shores of the New River to catch an up close and personal view of jumpers making their descents to the landing zone. Jumper after jumper made their way down from the New River Gorge Bridge above. Some of the lesser experienced ended up landing in the water as opposed to the bullseye. Getting to ride in a rescue boat on the river, we got a whole new view of what it was like to be there.

While down by the landing zone Fayette County Sheriff Mike Fridley explained to us what goes into the event from a safety perspective. “My entire department is working this year’s Bridge Day event,” he remarked. This large of an event would entail some serious organization and planning. “We have a meeting the next day after Bridge Day where we discuss what happened, talk about the bad and the good, and see what we can do that would make next year better,” stated Sheriff Fridley.

None of this would have been possible without the extensive attention to details and coordinating of Sharon Cruikshank, the Bridge Day 2017 Chairperson. Cruikshank was delighted to share details all about Bridge Day as well as this year’s artwork created by N.D. Tank and the visual design team at Digital Relativity. “We have everyone submit their artwork, we vote for which is the best and the people voted for N.D. Tank,” she stated. This is the second year that N.D. Tank was the voter’s choice winner; they did an amazing job.

Overall, Bridge Day 2017 was an incredible experience. We had the time of our lives getting to interview jumpers, walk the beams with rapellers, catch the waves on the river in the media boat and speak with the people who made this event a huge success. A special thank you goes to Pat Strader and Digital Relativity for giving us the opportunity to experience Bridge Day from a media perspective, Allie Strader and Sam Babcock for helping us get around and not get lost throughout the day, Benjy Simpson for leading us on the beams of the catwalk, Erica for getting us featured on the Discover page as well as everyone that we got to interview during the day. We are already looking forward to next year’s Bridge Day event!!

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