A person in red jumps off a cliff, displaying courage and thrill in an adventurous act.

A person in red jumps off a cliff, displaying courage and thrill in an adventurous act.

Bridge Day - A New River Gorge National Park Story by Shaka Guide

Shaka Guide


Introduction to the New River Gorge Bridge

Hey there, look at that bridge. Can you see it poking out over the tree line? Maybe you've noticed, but they sure do love the New River Gorge Bridge around here.

In fact, there's even an annual festival that celebrates its completion. 

And it all started with one man's strong sense of adventure and the unbelievable lengths that he was willing to go for a thrill.

It was August 17th, 1979. Burton Irvin was a local mine foreman and Korean War veteran. 

And he'd made the decision long before that day that he was gonna base jump off the bridge.

Now, base jumping is an extreme sport where you jump from a fixed structure, free fall for a bit, and then at the last second, deploy a parachute. Even today, it's a pretty risky sport.

But in the 1970s, base jumping was still in its infancy. Not to mention, illegal. But Burton was determined. 

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Burton Irvin's Determination

So, with his wife Mildred's blessing, there he stood. At 10.20 p.m. on the railing of the bridge, looking down at 876 feet below, with nothing to save his life but some homemade gear.

Mildred, the rest of their family, and about 200 spectators waited anxiously below.

And then, Burton jumped. The crowd shined their spotlights on him as he deployed his parachute. But the parachute disappeared into the darkness. 

Was Burton okay? Did he make it? As the spectators began their search, Burton emerged from the darkness near the river, all in one piece.

The first base jump off the New River Gorge was a rousing success. Within weeks, Burton and Mildred asked local officials to provide a legal opportunity for base jumping off the bridge. 

Bridge Day: A Thrilling Celebration

Just one year later, in 1980, the county held the first-ever Bridge Day. More than 40 years later, Bridge Day is still held on the third Saturday of October.

They close the road to traffic, and thousands of people come to walk across this man-made wonder.

And there's so much to do! Teams chosen by a lottery can rappel down the bridge using ropes.

Or anybody can try the zip line, sliding 700 feet from the bridge all the way down to Fayette Station Road.

But the main attraction on Bridge Day? It's still base jumping! Bridge Day is the only day of the year when you can legally base jump off of the bridge.

In fact, it's the only time and place you can legally base jump anywhere in the National Park system.

Over 400 base jumpers from all over the world come to participate in the event each year.

So, whether you're a base jumper yourself, or you just want to watch, you gotta come back for Bridge Day!

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Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's New River Gorge National Park Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

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