Southern Agenda

Attention Span

Two years after the New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977, a local army veteran made history when he parachuted from it to the riverbank 876 feet below. That leap of faith is now celebrated on the third Saturday in October during Bridge Day, West Virginia’s largest single-day festival. Some years, more than a hundred thousand people come out to enjoy the spectacular fall views of New River Gorge National Park, and one of the world’s largest extreme sports events. The parachuting is reserved for four hundred BASE jumpers (and those willing to pay $1,650 for a tandem jump). Others rappel or zip-line to the ground, says Marcus Ellison, who helps organize the event. During a six-hour window, jumpers leap off the bridge (or get catapulted if they prefer) every thirty seconds or so. After the airborne participants reach the ground or land in the river rapids, where rescue boats await, many rush back up to the bridge and do it again. Some get in six jumps in the day. “There’s this moment when your feet disconnect from the surface, this moment of stillness and quiet,” Ellison says. “And nothing else matters.”