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Monday, February 2, 2015

New River Gorge Bridge stuns from above & below

The “Coathanger” bridge in Sydney is famous for letting tourists enjoy an awesome view from high atop the 440-foot span.

A landmark West Virginia bridge is allowing tourists an opportunity to enjoy a view usually admired solely by trolls.

It’s the 851-foot high Bridge Walk at the New River Gorge in Fayetteville, W. Va., a 6/10 of a mile tightrope sort of stroll across a 24-inch wide maintenance catwalk beneath the bridge that from 1977 through 2002 was the world’s highest vehicular bridge.

Think you haven’t seen it before? Check your change.

The magnificent span is featured on the 2005 ceremonial quarter for the scenic state whose slogan justifiably includes the words “Wild and Wonderful.”

“It used to be a rite of passage for local kids to sneak way out onto the catwalk,” said Bridge Walk managing partner Benjy Simpson, who along with five associates poured more than $1 million in unobtrusive safety features into the barren passage and on Sept. 26, 2010, opened Bridge Walk.

Since then more than 3,800 bridge walkers from 37 countries and 49 states (still awaiting South Dakota) have paid $73.44 to enjoy the the one-way guided tour across the mighty gorge.

“We’ve had every age from 9- to 86-years-old cross and we’ve had people in wheelchairs,” says Simpson. “Most are there for scenery or are engineering vuffs marveling at the construction and many are people trying to overcome a fear of heights. Of them, only 15 have turned back.”

Physically, Bridge Walk is unimposing to anyone capable of a walking a leisurely mile. Walkers are given harnesses and tethered to overhead steel cables.

Twenty feet above, cars and trucks, many oblivious of the view beneath, rumble along the 3,030 foot stretch of U.S. Route 19. The bridge opening in 1977 turned a 45-minute gorge crossing into a 45 second one.

The bridge is familiar to international daredevils for Bridge Days every third Saturday in October when the span is closed to vehicular traffic so parachutists, bungee jumpers and other thrill seekers can revel in the opportunity the rare perch provides.

On November 19, Ryan Shoplik and Kolby Alonso took a leap of faith that have made countless other thrill seekers quake. They become the first couple to get engaged on Bridge Walk.

“He got down on one knee right in the middle of the bridge and proposed,” Alonso says. “I was just blown away! Everyone in this group of friendly strangers was in on it, but I had no idea. I remember the first part of the trip was great but I don’t remember anything about the rest of the tour after he yelled back, ‘She said yes!’”

Shoplik said his fears that day had little to do with the height or even if the girl he’s loved for four years since they met at West Virginia Wesleyan College would say no.

“I was just nervous I’d drop the ring!”

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