There was something surreal about standing straight above the New River Gorge in Lansing, West Virginia knowing I was technically higher than the top of the Gateway Arch in my hometown of Saint Louis. Strapped into a safety tether – the sights of rafters, boaters, hikers and even trains and cars looked like specs of dust at 851 feet .
Bridge Walk is a cooperative effort of West Virginia Division of Highways, the National Park Service and a company called Bridge Walk LLC. You meet with an official tour guide, step into a harness like you would use if you were doing a zip line and a lanyard that will hook into a safety line that stretches the span of the bridge. Unlike a zip line – the safety equipment becomes barely noticeable after five minutes on the bridge. You can freely walk from end to end, at a relaxed pace and enjoy some incredible views and even the faint sounds of those tiny human beings on the ground shouting up at you.
The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977 and weighs 88,000,000 pounds. Completed in sections – it’s heaviest part is 184,000 pounds. It boasts a beautiful arch directly in the middle that spans nearly 1,700 feet.
People come from all over the world to take the walk of a lifetime. Tour guide Doug Coleman told me that visitors from as far away as China have made the famous walk. Manager Benjy Simpson talked about the need to stay away from an amusement or theme park aspect for the experience. “It’s whatever someone wants it to be. Each person enjoys it for different reasons”
In addition to simply walking across the catwalk underneath the bridge, it’s an area tradition each Fall to participate in a “Bridge Jump”. Yeah… I don’t know about all of that. People can also rappel from the bridge at certain times of the year.
The small catwalk – perhaps two feet in width – is sturdy and solid. I never once felt unsafe. You don’t feel any swaying but you certainly feel the bounce as cars and trucks zoom by overhead. Not to mention the wind that can really whip through the sections of steel. The safety line above is actually the longest continuous safety system in the world.
A tour can last from 90 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the pace of your tour group. We were up there for about two hours. You can bring your own camera but beware – if you’re prone to dropping things – good luck getting it back if it falls off the bridge.
Some other fun facts about the experience:
-Since Bridge Walk first opened in 2010 there have been over 20,000 visitors to do the tour.
-People have gotten engaged while on the bridge.
-The New River is the second oldest river in the world.
-Sometimes visible on tours – the Peregrine Falcon which is considered the fastest animal on the planet and can reach speeds of 260 miles an hour.