The Bridge Experience
More than an expanse of metal and concrete over which we walk or drive our cars, bikes or mopeds, bridges offer access to areas far and wide, and often provide unique opportunities for fun and recreation. If you have a bridge in your town, here are a few examples of how to might make the most of them.
Mackinac Bridge Walk (Mackinac City and St. Ignace, Mich.)
Every Labor Day since 1958, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Mackinaw Area Chamber of Commerce invite their residents and visitors to walk the length of the Mackinac Bridge.
This popular event draws 50,000-60,000 participants, which is more than the combined populations of the two counties the bridge connects.
The Governor’s Party starts the 5-mile walk promptly at 7 a.m. To protect the participants, the bridge is closed to northbound traffic until 9:30 a.m., after which pedestrians are routed into one lane. No one is permitted to start the walk after 11 a.m. Baby strollers and wheelchairs are permitted on the bridge during the walk, but signs, banners, umbrellas, bicycles and roller skates/blades are prohibited. Seeing-eye dogs are the only animals permitted.
To add to the festive atmosphere, each participant receives a numbered certificate at the end of the walk. The certificate number may match a number displayed in any of the store windows in St. Ignace or Mackinaw City (valid only on Labor Day). Those whose certificate numbers match the store numbers claim prizes worth anywhere from $15 to $150.
New River Gorge Bridge Day (Fayetteville, W.Va.)
What began in 1980 as a small festival giving people the chance to walk across the longest steel-arch bridge in the Western hemisphere, Bridge Day has grown into Fayette County’s largest one-day event and arguably the largest extreme sports event in the world.
Bridge Day takes place on the third Saturday of October every year and attracts hundreds of BASE jumpers. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BASE_jumping), BASE jumping is a sport involving the use of a parachute to jump from any of four fixed objects: Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth. Rappellers join approximately 200,000 spectators for the fun.
At 876 feet tall, the New River Gorge Bridge is the world’s second longest single-arch bridge and serves as the launch point for six hours of safe, legal BASE jumps. Starting early in the day, jumpers from all over the world line up on the railing and take turns leaping for their eight-second ride to the water (parachutes deploy in three to four seconds). Incredibly, jumper after jumper glides gracefully to the designated landing zone on the water’s edge.
Because of the skill (and insanity?) required to safely jump, participants must meet the requirements: each participant must have skydived numerous times from aircraft, and each must pre-register.
Like their BASE-jumping brethren, rappellers are allowed to descend and ascend the 876-foot span on fixed ropes. Because there are so many teams, a lottery drawing is held each June. To participate, rappellers have to be properly trained, have successfully completed at least one 250-foot rappel, have the necessary equipment, and be familiar with rescue techniques.
To serve both the participants and the spectators, vendors are allowed to set up on both sides of the bridge. Typical vendor wares include crafts, souvenirs, photos and food/refreshments. Spectators can also participate in two-hour tours of the bottom of the Gorge, giving them a great vantage point from which to view the BASE jumping and rappelling.
Historic Watson Mill Bridge (Comer, Ga.)
Picturesque Watson Mill Bridge is the centerpiece and reason for the creation of Watson Mill Bridge State Park. The park, which straddles the county line, is proud to offer visitors access to one of the longest, original-site covered bridges in the state--one of only 15 covered bridges remaining in Georgia.
The Watson Mill Bridge, built in 1885 (and renovated in 1970), is a photographer’s dream. It spans the South Fork River (229 feet long) and features a town-lattice-truss system, held together with strong wooden pins.
The bridge is named for a gristmill located several hundred feet down river and was built to allow access to the mill. Originally, a sluice provided water to power the gristmill as well as a nearby sawmill, but with the birth of technology, the sluice was replaced by a raceway, which delivered water from the dam to a turbine, generating electricity. Eventually, even that became impractical, and the land and bridge were donated to the state of Georgia, which turned it into a state park that opened to the public in 1973.
While there is no particular need to create special programming for the bridge, the bridge and, by extension the park itself, have become a featured stop on the itinerary of Roadside Georgia, an organization that claims, “Our job is to help you find the well-known and the unknown places in our favorite state in the nation, Georgia.” The park contains over 1,000 acres of land, offering canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, biking and camping, as well as wildlife exhibits.
The covered bridge remains the highlight of the park. Visitors particularly enjoy the bridge at sunset, when its burnished hues enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
According to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, the future of Brooklyn Bridge Park is very bright. According to its promotional material (www.brooklynbridgepark.org), “The future 85-acre park will stretch 1.3 miles along the East River from north of the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue. The park includes Piers 1-6, each approximately the size of Bryant Park, and their uplands. Brooklyn Bridge Park will transform this underused and inaccessible stretch into a magnificent public space filled with lawns, recreation, beaches, coves, restored habitats, playgrounds and beautifully landscaped areas. The park will connect visitors to the waterfront and N.Y. Harbor in extraordinary ways with floating pathways, fishing piers, canals, paddling waters and restored wetlands. This is the most significant park development in Brooklyn since Prospect Park was built 135 years ago.”
The current park covers 12 acres and is home to exciting programming and special events--all provided at no cost to partipants. Some events include:
Harbor Camp--A city-wide initiative created by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Harbor Camp brings underserved youth to the waterfront for environmental education, recreation and exploration.
Puppetry Theater Workshop--Children entering kindergarten through 6th grade spend two weeks developing and crafting a puppet performance to be staged in one of the park’s magnificent settings. The performances are free to the public.
Movies With a View--Hosted by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Movies With a View is just that--free outdoor movies based around a theme all summer long. Watch a movie against the backdrop of the “Big Apple.”
From traveling zoos to puppet workshops, there is always something happening at the park--and it’s all made possible by the presence of one glorious bridge, proving once again that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Bridges can be and maybe should be more than practical solutions to access problems. If you’ve got one near your town, why not turn it into something special?
Sheryl Noble is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.