CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Organizers of West Virginia’s largest outdoor festival have rejected a move to cancel the event for the second straight year after Gov. Jim Justice encouraged it to continue.
The Bridge Day Commission rejected 4-2 a proposal from one of its members to call off the Oct. 16 event over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice made his pro-festival comments at a news conference Wednesday. His stance was announced to the commission just prior to its vote at a meeting a few hours later in Fayetteville.
The governor said events such as college football games were moving forward as planned, so Bridge Day should, too.
“Right now from my standpoint I have no intention whatsoever in shutting down these large events,” Justice said.
COVID-19 cases are rampant across West Virginia. Records were smashed this week for the number of people hospitalized and there are more than 27,600 active virus cases statewide, according to health data.
Tens of thousands of people typically show up on the third Saturday of October to watch parachutists, zip liners and rappellers on the 876-foot-high (267-meter) New River Gorge Bridge.
Justice spoke up after he said state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby told him last week about the possibility that Bridge Day would be canceled.
“I said no way, no way,” Justice said. “All we can do is encourage. It’s their event. But from the standpoint of the government, I absolutely think wholeheartedly we should go forward with Bridge Day.”
Earlier this month the commission decided to required masks for most people attending Bridge Day.
People come from across the world to attend the event. Festivalgoers typically line the center of the 3,000-foot-long (914-meter) bridge shoulder to shoulder trying to get a good look at parachutists catapulting themselves off the nation’s third-highest bridge.
Bridge Day is the only day of the year that the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic.
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