|Thousands of people will be celebrating the New River Gorge Bridge Saturday in Fayette County, either by jumping off of it or observing those taking the leap.|
Organizers said they are expecting about 360 jumpers at this year's Bridge Day celebration. The annual event gives thrill-seekers the opportunity to jump off of the bridge, which is 876 feet above the normal water level from the jump platform. For perspective, that is two times higher than the Washington Monument.
Marcus Ellison, BASE adviser to Bridge Day Commission, said before anyone is allowed to jump, they have to go through some training.
"Most of the time what people do is learn how to sky dive first," Ellison said. "So they go to a place and jump out of airplanes several times. We require that you have at least 100 prior jumps before you can BASE jump at the New River Gorge Bridge.
People put in a lot of years and a lot of time and money training for this so they can BASE jump for years and do it safely."
Ellison said the oldest person who has BASE jumped was 86 years old and did it at Bridge Day. Ellison said he thought the youngest was 21.
The event will still go on, regardless of cold or wet weather conditions, Ellison said.
Mandy Wriston, Bridge Day coordinator, said Fayette County typically sees anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 people at Bridge Day. This year marks the event's 39th year.
"Bridge Day has gotten a little bit bigger and bigger every year with more and more BASE jumpers, with more and more rappellers, more vendors," Wriston said.
"We now run shuttles down to the bottom so that people can get a different perspective of Bridge Day other than BASE jumping and rappelling. I like to describe it to people as the difference between standing up and looking at your friend standing on the floor or laying on the floor looking at your friend standing up. It's a totally different perspective from the bottom."
Wriston said the bridge will shut down promptly at 7 a.m. Saturday. Detours will be set up on Route 16 or Route 60.