The Bridge Club
For the views of a lifetime, experience the New River Gorge Bridge with a Bridge Walk tour.
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I’ve driven across the New River Gorge Bridge hundreds of times, and I still crane my neck over the side to catch a fleeting glimpse of the stunning landscape below. In fact, I attended the opening ceremonies of the bridge in 1977. I was six years old. At that time, it was the longest steel single-span arch bridge and the highest vehicular bridge in the world, rising 876 feet above the New River—the planet’s second oldest river.
The bridge, which is now emblazoned on the West Virginia state quarter, is a monument to man’s ingenuity—an amazing architectural and structural marvel. Before it was built, it took travelers 45 minutes to cross the New River Gorge. The bridge, which took three years to build, cut that time to 45 seconds. Nearly 17,000 cars cross it daily, and it has become a tourism destination in its own right. Hundreds of BASE jumpers have leaped from it. And thousands more stop at the visitor center each year to view it from the observation deck. But to truly experience the bridge, you must walk across it—or rather, under it.
Bridge Walk, in cooperation with the National Park Service and West Virginia Division of Highways, offers guided tours underneath the roadway along a two-foot catwalk that spans the length of the bridge. “Riding across the bridge doesn’t do it justice. You can’t truly experience the incredible views,” says Benjy Simpson, one of the founding partners and a tour guide. “Since we began giving tours in 2010, we’ve had folks from 37 countries and all 50 states and the District of Columbia with an age range from 9 to 88 years old. We can even accommodate wheelchairs.”
According to Benjy, people take the tour for three reasons: to see the engineering achievement that the bridge represents, to enjoy the spectacular views in all four seasons, and to overcome or learn to appreciate their fear of heights. “We’ve had 3,800 people and only 15 people did not complete the tour,” he says. “Our guides are understanding and patient. We want everyone to have a good experience.”
At 850 feet above the boulder-laden canyon, this tour isn’t for the faint of heart. Benjy swears that many people take the tour to conquer their fear of heights, and our own photographer Rebecca Kiger put that to the test. Rebecca recalls, “As I approached the catwalk, I faced what I thought was insurmountable fear. Benjy helped me put one foot in front of the other. Each step was one of terror. As we approached the halfway point, Benjy found words that reached me. He said, ‘Someday, your daughter is going to want to do things that scare you. You’re either going to move through this fear so you can share those moments with her or you’re going to miss them.’ My fear turned to determination, then to confidence, and finally to elation. As I reached the end of the catwalk, I was simply amazed at the feat I had accomplished with the help of a patient and surefooted friend. It’s been almost a year, and I’m ready to walk the bridge again. This time, I want to take my mother.”