Bridge Day Community: Who Owns Bridge Day?
Every year, tens of thousands of people from all corners of the world come to Fayetteville to celebrate Bridge Day. Hundreds of folks come together to make this event fun and safe for all involved. Our Community Series highlights people in the community & what they do to support Bridge Day. Each of the people who organize, coordinate and volunteer their time have a passion for West Virginia, Bridge Day and the community of the New River Gorge. These are their stories.
“I’ve often wondered: who owns Bridge Day? I believe the community needs to take ownership of this event, and make it wonderful for everyone who participates,” said Gene Kistler.
The local business owner is leading that philosophy by example.
Gene began rock climbing in the New River Gorge in 1985. He moved to Fayetteville with his wife Maura in the spring of 1991. Together with their business partner Kenny Parker, they opened Water Stone Outdoors on Memorial Day weekend in 1994. They’ve made Fayetteville their home, and raised their children here.
Gene is an active member of the community, involved in all aspects of the New River Gorge. In 2013, Gene and Maura were awarded a Menocal Lifetime Achievement Award from the Access Fund for their service, advocacy and stewardship in the climbing community.
This year, Gene will bring his passion for the New River Gorge to Bridge Day. We were lucky to catch up with Gene and learn why he’s excited about Bridge Day.
What does Bridge Day Mean to You?
“Bridge Day means I’ve got to have a plan. Our home is on the North side of the Bridge, and our business, Water Stone Outdoors, is on the South side of the bridge. It’s usually less than a 5-minute drive to Fayetteville, but not on Bridge Day. We’ve got to get up early and beat the traffic to town. The shop is going to be busy, so we’ve got to help staff get there.
“Bridge Day brings tourism alive in Fayetteville. We live in an amazing place with a cool bridge over this incredible gorge, and Bridge Day brings all these people here. They get to experience the beauty and magnitude of the Gorge, the antics of the BASE jumpers, the rappellers and whitewater rafters, all from the Bridge. It’s incredible to see children and people of all ages from all walks of life share in this incredible experience.”
Why are You Volunteering?
“I like Bridge Day. I’m glad it happens. This year marks the 36th Bridge Day, and it has its own momentum. Bridge Day is the single largest event in West Virginia, and each year it draws tens of thousands of people.
“It’s a great opportunity to grow our community, and that’s why I’m volunteering. I’ve attended meetings for the last 6 months learning about all the people and coordination involved, and I have learned that it’s the people who organize, who coordinate, the people who wake up early and work to make the event happen, and all those who come out— those are the ones who own Bridge Day.
“There are very few events like this one. It's one of a kind.”
What's Your Role in Bridge Day?
“My role is plugging in however I can be helpful to support the BASE Jumping. It’s still early, so we haven’t gotten into specifics, but I will do anything, whether it’s rigging, driving a shuttle or being on the river.”
Best Bridge Day Memory: “In 1996, I was an assistant to my friend Susie Post, a photographer from National Geographic. Susie had a press pass that gave her full access to the bridge, and as her assistant, I got one, too.
“We scampered all over the bridge. I fixed ropes and rigged her to get the best shots. We were all over the catwalk. At one point, I had her secured under the BASE Jumpers platform. I’d get her set up, she would shoot and I would go scout and rig the next location.”
Favorite Bridge Day Souvenir: “My memories and my friendship with Susie Post.”
Favorite Bridge Day Food: “Funnel cake, no question. Oh and the fajitas that Cindy and Joy make.”
Favorite Bridge Day Tradition: “Watching the BASE jumping. BASE Jumping puts Bridge Day into 3 dimensions.”
Most Exciting View: “Too many too count, from the day I had my all-access pass.”