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New River Gorge Bridge

A View From Below

July 11, 2010




On July 11, 2010, I rode down to Charleston WV via the New River Gorge Bridge just north of Fayetteville,WV on Rt 19.   This bridge is one of probably most recognizable landmarks in the state (it is featured on the state quarter).  Although I have been across the bridge on the 4-lane Rt 19 several times, I have never taken the old road that winds down the steep side of the mountain to an old bridge ¼ mile east of the new bridge.  That was an interesting side trip, evident by the fact it took me nearly 2 hours to cover 5 miles with all of my photo stops.  First, here’s a little background on the bridge.


(Following notes from Wikipedia)

The New River Gorge Bridge is a steel-arch bridge, near Fayetteville, West Virginia, United States. With a length of 3,030 feet (924 m), it was for many years the longest in the world of that type.  It is now the third largest arch bridge in the world (still the largest in the United States). Its arch extends 1,700 feet (518 m). Part of U.S. Route 19, it is crossed by an average of 16,200 motor vehicles per day.  Its construction marked the completion of Corridor L. In 2005, the structure was further immortalized when a depiction of the span was placed on the West Virginia state quarter.

The New River Gorge Bridge carries US 19 over the New River at a height of 876 feet (267 m), making it the highest vehicular bridge in the Americas, and the fifth highest in the world. Before the 2004 opening of the Millau Viaduct in France, it was the highest in the world.  Several suspension bridges in China have since surpassed them. The current record holder is the Si Du River Bridge which opened in November 2009 and currently has 1,549 feet (472 m) of clearance above the river of that name.

Construction began on the bridge in June 1974, and completed on October 22, 1977. It was designed by the Michael Baker Company, under the direction of Chief Engineer Clarence V. Knudsen, and executed by U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division. Final cost of construction was $37 million (approximately $4 million over bid). Many locals say, with little exaggeration, that completion of the bridge cut the travel time from one side of the gorge to the other from 45 minutes to 45 seconds.

The bridge is the centerpiece of Fayette County's "Bridge Day", during which the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic. Until recently, the bridge was half-open, with two way traffic. Security concerns have prompted the closing of the entire span to vehicles during the festival. This festival includes demonstrations of rappelling, ascending and BASE jumping, and is held every October on the third Saturday. Bungee jumping has been banned from Bridge Day since 1993. The bridge is within the New River Gorge National River and the National Park Service operates a visitor center at the northern end of the bridge with scenic overlooks and a staircase that descends partially into the gorge.

BASE jumper Brian Lee Schubert, 66, of Alta Loma, California, died during Bridge Day 2006 (October 21) when his parachute did not open in time.  He was pronounced dead at the scene. His death was the first that occurred during BASE jumping at the New River Gorge Bridge Day Festival since 1987, and only the third ever. One other BASE jumper was killed while performing an illegal, non-Bridge Day related jump.



County Road 82 winds southbound from the Visitor Center across the New River Gorge.

Here, the road descends as a one-lane, one-way trip back in time.



Descending down to the river.



One of the information markers along the way. 

The New River was once lined with coal mining communities.



Close-up of the plaque.



Another close-up of the plaque.




One of many tall rocks along the descent down to the river.



First good view of the bridge.  Only halfway down the mountain right now.



Another roadside informational plaque.  Nice view of the bridge.




Close-up of the plaque.





Getting closer to the river.  Lots of interesting rock overhangs like this along the way.




Another rock overhang.  Almost there.




View of the overhang from the other direction.



Finally made it to the river.  This Historical Marker is for Townsend’s Ferry that once operated here.



Close-up of the Historical Marker. 




From the other direction at the marker, the old Tunney Hunsaker Bridge is just around the bend

to the right and across the railroad tracks. 




This is the old bridge that used to carry all of the traffic across the river!!! 

Walking out onto the bridge, you are afforded a spectacular view of the river and the new bridge.




View from the old bridge west toward the new bridge. 




Whitewater rafting is a very popular sport (and business) around here. 

The waters range from mild to wild.




Some rafters enjoying one of the quieter sections of the river.



Yes, trains still run on the tracks by the river and old bridge. 



Time to start up the other side (southbound). 

The Visitor Center is on the far right end of the bridge. 



Interesting view of the support beams under the bridge. 


OK, the story takes a funny twist here.  A friend told me he had stayed at a campground several years ago just on the eastern edge of Charleston along Rt 60.  The last campground I passed was 35 miles back, but I thought I’d take the chance so I would have a shorter ride in the morning.  Well, I looked and looked, and found no campground.  As I entered downtown Charleston, I knew I had either missed it or it wasn’t there.  I was hoping for the former.  I backtracked out to the first exit off Rt 60 and started looking around.  There was a guy working on his truck in front of his home, so I stopped to ask directions.  He (Wilson) told me there used to be a campground down the road, but it is now a city park (with no camping). His wife (Cammie) was on the porch and came out to join us.  I explained that I had a meeting at the Department of Archives and History in the morning, and was hoping to camp closer to Charleston than 35 miles back.  Cammie asked me about the meeting, and I explained that I was meeting Joe Geiger at 8am.  Well, it’s a small world (at least in WV).  Turns out one of her close relatives is Joe’s secretary.  They invited me to camp in their back yard.  Wow! Small world! 



All set up for a good night’s sleep.




Buddy, my backyard camping companion! 

(Very friendly - if you know the secret password.  Otherwise, you’re dog-meat J )




Wilson & Cammie (far left) and their family. They invited me to join them for an evening of conversation around the backyard firepit. We watched one of the planets (Mars or Venus??) slowly sink toward the horizon in the clear evening sky. Cammie’s mother (far right) showed me her rock collection with rocks from all over the world.  She didn’t have an Alaska rock, though, so I promised I would bring her one. (I did – about 2 weeks later) She even brought me out a quilt in case it got cool that evening.  How sweet!

Very nice evening. Thanks!!!


** The Next Day **


The previous morning, I was just getting to Rella's for lunch when I rode through a swarm of bees. One flew up inside my helmet and stung me by the right eye. Rella gave me some ice, and I had some Benedryl cream to put on it. Even though it still burned a little, I thought the worst was over. Wrong!


The next morning, this is what I woke up to.  Luckily, it didn't swell completely shut, so I still had "bi-vision" and depth perception. I made it to my meeting with Joe Geiger and made it home to Clarksburg OK. Just watery eyes.

Lots of history in those hillsides along the New River. That's a whole 'nother story. Maybe next summer!


Hope you enjoyed the trip! 

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