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Exploring New River Gorge and its landmark Bridge

 


Recently on Gribblenation, we helped break the news that the New River National River and its surrounding lands are to be designated as a National Park & Preserve. Given this exciting news, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this same area that I had the fortune of exploring for the first time back in July 2020 and show you some of my favorite locations and amenities encountered along the way.

For an engineer like me, the centerpiece landmark of the New River region is the New River Gorge Bridge, a massive steel arch bridge located along US Route 19 near Fayetteville, WV. The bridge was completed in 1977 as the world’s largest bridge of its type, a title it held for 25 years after its completion. It is additionally the centerpiece link in ADHS Corridor L, connecting Interstates 64/77 in Beckley with Interstate 79 near Sutton, and it remains among the great engineering achievements of the 20th Century for both West Virginia and America in general. The bridge’s birthday is celebrated by the locals with the annual “Bridge Day” celebration held on the third Saturday of October. The event attracts folks nationwide and is known for its live demonstrations of rappelling, ascending, and BASE jumping. The eastern bridge landing area is home to a visitor center and a popular overlook point (the location where the picture above was taken). If you’re feeling a bit daring and are unable to attend the “Bridge Day” festivities, you can also sign up for the “Bridge Walk” experience, offered by the private “Bridge Walk, LLC” company. The Bridge Walk gives visitors the opportunity to walk the length of the bridge’s maintenance catwalk beneath the roadway, over 800 feet above the canyon floor. 


Above: Views of the Bridge from various overlook points along the narrow, winding Fayette Station Road. The bridge's steel arch spans 1,700 ft and its roadway stands 876 ft above the canyon floor, making it among the tallest bridges in the United States.

For a bit of a change of pace, drivers can also navigate their way along the Old Road across New River Gorge. Signed today as Fayette Station Road and Fayette County Route 82, the old road is a single lane wide (open to traffic in the south/westbound direction) and navigates the steep slopes of the gorge with the help of tight hairpin turns and switchbacks. At the bottom of the gorge, the old road crosses the New River on a single-lane truss bridge known as the Fayette Station Bridge. The bridge was built in 1889 and then closed upon completion of the New River Gorge Bridge in 1977. After 20 years of abandonment, the bridge and Fayette Station Road were reopened to small vehicle traffic in 1997 and this bridge at the bottom of the gorge offers a spectacular view of the newer arch bridge as it soars over 800 feet above.

Above: A few images of the Fayette Station Road as it winds its way through New River Gorge, including the Fayette Station Bridge at the bottom of the canyon.

The above photos come from my "Bridge Walk" trip as we walked the length of the maintenance catwalk beneath the roadway. In spite of the heights we were at, the walk is extremely safe - walkers wear lanyards that tie off to an overhead tag line to prevent falls. The catwalk itself also has waist-high railings on it so folks won't fall off the edges. It's one of the safer catwalks I've had the pleasure of strolling as an engineer, but the heights we deal with at this particular location are enough to frighten even the most skilled thrill-seekers.

It’s not just all about roads and bridges when you’re here - there are other non-road related locations folks can check out while they’re in the area. In July 2020, the above-mentioned Visitor Center was closed due to COVID-19, so I sought out other alternative ways to take advantage of what the area has to offer. One of my favorite activities during this visit was to hike the Long Point Trail, which is a 2.9 mile out & back from a trailhead located just south of Fayetteville village. It’s a fairly stress-free hike that takes about 90 minutes round-trip at a brisk pace and the views at the overlook at trail’s end are some of the finest in the entire New River region, spectacular even. It’s one of those simple ways to do something outdoors while still maintaining social distance in the era of COVID-19, while also taking in the man-made & natural scenery & beauty of New River.


Above: Select views of the Long Point Trail near Fayetteville, including the "Money Shots" of the Bridge at the Trail's End Overlook




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