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Bridge Day History & Facts

On the 22nd of October in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was opened to traffic. This bridge opening marked the end of the old, long commute from one side of the New River Gorge to the other. This drive used to take around 45 minutes of driving on narrow roads that snaked down one side of the Gorge and up the other. The construction of the New River Gorge Bridge turned this tedious 45-minute journey into a trip of a little over a minute. Most of my 1980’s generation is familiar with the back seat dare to hold your breath until your Mom or Dad drove all the way across the New River Gorge Bridge. (This, of course, should only be attempted by passengers of a vehicle crossing the bridge).

The American Bridge Division of US Steel constructed this miracle of modern technology for almost $37 million dollars. They saved $300,000 off the original cost by using unpainted weathering steel to construct the bridge. The color blends with the surrounding breathtaking beauty of the New River Gorge itself. The West Virginia Division of Highways does not need to repaint the New River Gorge Bridge, saving them around $1 million dollars for each time the bridge would have required painting. All they need to do is treat the bridge with calcium magnesium acetate, which smells very much like vinegar, instead of the normal salt treatment preventing ice in the wintertime.

For those of you who will be attending Bridge Day for the first time, you are being treated to something most people do not get to experience. Pedestrian traffic is not allowed on the surface of the New River Gorge Bridge at any time—except on Bridge Day, the third Saturday in October. The distance you have to walk to get from one side of the Bridge to the other may astound you. The main span of the Bridge is 1,700 feet long, and the total length of the Bridge is around 3,030 feet long. That is quite a walk. It is also a walk that is special for yet another reason. The Bridge you are walking on is actually 876 feet above the rapids of the New River. This may not seem very tall since you just walked 3,030 feet across the Bridge, but do not just push that number aside. We could move the Washington Monument underneath the New River Gorge Bridge and still have 325 feet left of empty space between the two. This makes the New River Gorge Bridge a perfect location for the BASE jumpers and rappellers that take advantage of the Bridge Day festivities.

Hopefully, you too can join us this Bridge Day to enjoy the New River Gorge Bridge against the beautiful fall colors of the New River Gorge.

Through the Years of Excitement

On New River Gorge Bridge Day

  • 1977
    The New River Gorge Bridge was dedicated and officially opened on Oct. 22.
  • 1980
    The first New River Gorge Bridge Day was held on November 8. There were two parachutists that jumped from a plane onto the bridge. There were five parachutists that jumped from the bridge into the gorge. 5,500 certificates were given out to people taking the 3,000-foot walk across the bridge.
  • 1981
    28 rappellers and 10 parachutists participated in Bridge Day.
  • 1984
    Three hundred BASE Jumpers jumped from the bridge.
  • 1985
    Oak Hill & Fayetteville Post Offices offered the first Bridge Day cachet. Jon McBride, NASA astronaut, was the honored guest
  • 1986
    Four hundred BASE jumpers took the plunge.
  • 1990
    Tom King and Vivian Taylor tie the knot in the first wedding on the bridge.
  • 1992
    Chris Allum bungee jumps from the bridge to set a world’s record for the longest bungee jump from a fixed structure.
  • 1993
    Chris Allum and six others bungee jump for a record seven person jump.
  • 1997
    20th Anniversary of the dedication of the Bridge & Bridge Workers’ Appreciation Day. Twelve BASE Jumpers leaped off the bridge to break the world record for a simultaneous jump.
  • 1998
    Sixteen jumpers, a group of 12 followed by a group of 4, set a world record by jumping simultaneously.
  • 2000
    Two hundred sixty five people rappelled from the bridge.
  • 2001
    Bridge Day cancelled due to 9/11; The Spirit of Bridge Day was held in downtown Fayetteville. The First Mountain State Slalom and Skateboard Competition was held. The First Taste of Bridge Day was held.
  • 2002
    The First Bridge Day High Line was held. Bridge Day back on the bridge. Route 19 closed to through traffic from 7AM to 5PM.
  • 2006
    The First Down Under Tour was held.
  • 2007
    Robert Handley became the oldest rapeller at 79.
  • 2012
  • First catapult of BASE jumpers.
  • Owner
    West Virginia Department of Highways
  • Design Engineer
    Michael Baker, Jr., Inc.
  • Contractor
    American Bridge Division – US Steel Corp.
  • Bid Price
    $33,984,000
  • Final Cost
    $37,000,000
  • Time to Build
    Three years – from 1973-1977
  • Time to Design
    The man hours for design calculations and drawings would be equivalent to one man working 40 hours per week for 15 years

Other Facts

  • Officially opened on October 22, 1977
  • Longest steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere with a 1,700’ span
  • Second highest bridge in the United States at 876’
  • The bridge length is 3,030’
  • The deck width is 69 feet 4 inches
  • Total bridge weight is 88,000,000 lbs.
  • Ultra-high strength “Cor-Ten” weathering steel was used to blend into the surroundings and save approximately $1 million for every painting that didn’t have to be done.