Jump

A BASE jumper flips during his dive from the 876-foot tall New River Gorge Bridge in 2019, the last time Bridge Day was held. The Bridge Day Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to cancel Bridge Day 2021. The event was canceled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well. Bridge Day, under the direction of the Bridge Day Commission as designated by West Virginia Code, is a project of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce. The only other time the event was canceled was in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.

A signature southern West Virginia event — Bridge Day — has been shelved for the second straight year.

During a regular meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Bridge Day Commission voted to cancel Bridge Day 2021 following a motion to that effect by Rod Perdue of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department and a second from Terry Ritterbush of the Town of Fayetteville.

"The Bridge Day Commission has voted to cancel Bridge Day 2021," commission chair Becky Sullivan announced following a unanimous vote.

"In regard to canceling Bridge Day 2021, it is bittersweet," Sullivan said in a statement released following the meeting. "We would like nothing more than to host a safe, in-person Bridge Day. However, it takes a lot of moving parts to make Bridge Day happen and involves many resources from throughout our community.

"As with many businesses who are seeing shortages in staffing, we are seeing the same thing from volunteers and other resources relied upon by the Bridge Day Committee. The Bridge Day Committee is a group of volunteers, civic groups and others who work to staff the event, improve from year to year, and be a quality control unit of the Bridge Day Commission. Many of the seasoned volunteers had decided not to participate this year due to concerns for their personal safety. Several civic organizations were unable to commit because of concerns for their own members. This includes churches, scout troops and other civic groups throughout the county. The community support for hosting the event simply wasn't there.

"Though our county is showing small declines in cases of Covid-19, we are still within an extremely high infection rate and percent positivity throughout the community. We believe the decision of the Bridge Day Commission to cancel for 2021 is the best for the community and look forward to hosting Bridge Day in 2022."

The commission two weeks ago voted 4-2 against canceling, instead expressing a desire to explore options of moving forward amid various concerns on how the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying health care response concerns could affect event participants and the greater community health and infrastructure.

Detailing various uncertainties, representatives of the BASE jumping community said jumpers were pulling out of Bridge Day last week. Hundreds of jumpers from around the world have annually participated in Bridge Day, the only day of the year on which it is legal to walk across U.S. Rte. 19 in the area of the New River Gorge Bridge and jump or rappel from the single-span steel structure. BASE jumpers' gravity-defying leaps from the bridge into the gorge below are the primary drawing card for many who have attended the festival in the past.

Visitors to the area on the third Saturday in October also purchase wares from a variety of vendors set up on either end of the bridge, try to get a glimpse of rappellers or highline riders on the bridge underbelly, or simply stroll the span visiting with old friends or new and take in West Virginia's beautiful fall colors.

Earlier this year, the BDC issued a mask mandate to be utilized in the event Bridge Day was held.

On Wednesday morning, the Fayette County Commission held an emergency meeting to address how it was going to vote at the BDC meeting. After discussing the matter in executive session, commissioners reconvened the meeting and indicated their unanimous intentions to cast a vote to cancel Bridge Day when the matter came before the Bridge Day Commission.

Some speakers at Wednesday's BDC meeting expressed lingering concerns with the availability of medical care for the general public and event participants if the event were to move forward.

Local resident and business owner Maura Kistler pointed out that three popular regional events, including Gauley Fest, were recently canceled by their outside organizers "who knew West Virginia was a hot-spot."

Law enforcement and emergency response agency representatives at the meeting said they were poised to be at their posts if Bridge Day did proceed.

Bridge Day was canceled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the past two years, the only other time in the event's history it was canceled was in 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America.

"Please look for some throwbacks to Bridge Day's past, as well as other fun, on our second Virtual Bridge Day – Oct. 16, 2021," Sullivan said.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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