Falling with style at 36th Annual Bridge Day


Rob Engle

A base jumper pumps himself up for the 876-foot plunge at Bridge Day Saturday.

More than 200 base jumpers took the 876-foot fall into the cold New River on Saturday at the 36th Annual Bridge Day celebration in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Spectators flooded into Fayetteville to watch the jumpers’ death-defying leaps from the world’s second-largest steel arch-span bridge.

One of the most common questions buzzing around the crowd was what a person has to do to actually jump at Bridge Day. Though some adrenaline-loving spectators may have felt the urge to put on a parachute and take the plunge themselves, a lot of training is required up front. Jumpers need to have completed at least 100 base jumps or skydives to qualify.

One daredevil Jordan Brantley, who has been jumping at the event for three years, said these strict qualifications are necessary to prepare for a leap into the gorge.

“It’s a tight spot down in the gorge,” Brantley said. “You want to be able to do the hundred sky dives to have canopy skills and be prepared to step off. There’s also a first-jump training course that teaches you how to do that properly.”

Despite the extensive preparation, Brantley said the rush of the fall is always worth it.

“It’s a thrill. Stepping off the ramp and watching the bridge pass your back is unlike anything else,” Brantley said. “But that crack when the parachute opens is the best part. It’s overhead you in no time and you feel a lot better.”

Though hundreds of people jump on Bridge Day every year, the event was originally founded for members of the Fayetteville community to simply enjoy the immense piece of architecture right in their backyard.

“The locals like it as a day to just walk across the bridge. That’s really what started Bridge Day, the local community wanted a day that they could walk across the bridge, and get a certificate,” Many Wriston, travel specialist for Fayette County said.

The celebration is also an opportunity for vendors across the state to market to new customers. Angela Sundstrum, marketing communications manager for Adventures on the Gorge, a tourism and recreation business in Fayetteville, said Bridge Day is an event that markets itself to a worldwide crowd.

“It’s a great way for us to introduce ourselves to a different audience,” Sundstrum said. “There are so many people from all over the country and even the world. It’s a great way to introduce Adventures on the Gorge and West Virginia to new people.”

Those who couldn’t trek to West Virginia for Bridge Day could experience the celebration a different way — through Snapchat. This year’s event was featured nationally on the app, which included a geotag visitors could use to contribute to a collective Snap Story.

To prepare for the influx of ten-of-thousands of spectators every year, Wriston said the Bridge Day commission works year-round to plan a safe and enjoyable day.

“A lot of people don’t know that Bridge Day is in our state constitution,” Wriston said. “The commission has been put together federal, state, county and city entities as well as the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce. We will start on Monday, 364 days in advance, for to plan the next year.”

Rob Engle can be contacted at [email protected]