Two of the state’s most popular fall events will not take place this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In separate news releases Wednesday, event organizers announced the cancellation of both Bridge Day and the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival.
In its release Wednesday morning, the Bridge Day Commission cited “uncertainty around the safety of mass gatherings” in making its decision. The event was to be held Oct. 17.
“We know that this is an enormous disappointment, but this is not a decision that has been taken lightly,” commission chairperson Becky Sullivan said. “However, we are in uncharted territory, and we are working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”
The West Virginia Pumpkin Festival Board shared similar concerns in announcing the cancellation of the Milton festival, scheduled for Oct. 1-4.
“Officials have continually monitored the restrictions and guidelines for fairs and festivals set forth by the state government,” the release states. “After much consideration, the decision was made to suspend the festival in the best interest of the health and safety of our guests, vendors and volunteers.”
Cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise in West Virginia in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Kanawha County reported its largest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began in March.
“The uncertainty we are facing makes the probability of factors outside of our control forcing us to cancel the event at the last minute much higher,” Sullivan said. “We based this decision on the facts as we know them and, more importantly, based on our responsibility and care for our community.”
This is only the second time the annual event at the New River Gorge Bridge, in Fayette County, has been canceled since the festival began nearly 40 years ago. The other cancellation occurred in 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the celebration was called off due to security concerns.
Instead of hosting BASE jumpers, Fayette County that year held a “Spirit of Bridge Day” weekend, which had no rappelling, parachuting or even zip lining.
Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest single-day festival and one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Approximately 100,000 people attend Bridge Day each year. In previous years, more than 300 BASE jumpers from over 33 states have participated in the event, as well as 300-plus rappellers.
“We understand the gravity of the situation, and how much this event means to all involved,” Sullivan said. “We continue to strive toward our purpose of celebrating the New River Gorge Bridge and surrounding areas. We intend to keep morale high and, together with community leaders, focus on collective efforts to rebuild a fantastic event in 2021.”
The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977, but the first Bridge Day celebration didn’t take place until three years later, according to the event’s website. Five parachutists jumped from the bridge into the New River Gorge that day. By 1984, that number increased to 300.
“We appreciate the patience and understanding and look forward to welcoming everyone to future Bridge Day events,” Sullivan said.
The Pumpkin Festival Board said it is considering virtual events and socially distanced activities in lieu of the traditional event. All pre-festival activities, including pageants and the parade, were also canceled.