CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's largest outdoor festival on the third-highest U.S. bridge next month was canceled Wednesday, a week after a group representing parachutists bailed out.
The Bridge Day Commission voted unanimously to cancel the Oct. 16 event on the New River Gorge Bridge.
Marcus Ellison, an organizer for a group of BASE jumpers, cited concerns about available health care in case of an emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic in announcing last week that the group would not participate. Some hospitals in southern West Virginia have been inundated in recent weeks with COVID-19 patients with a few saying their intensive care units were at capacity.
Ellison also was concerned there could be an insufficient number of bus drivers to transport BASE jumpers from the bottom to the top of the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville on Oct. 16.
“The well-being of my jumpers is the number one priority as an event organizer,” Ellison told the Bridge Day Commission on Sept. 22.
BASE stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, the fixed objects from which jumpers leap.
Prior to the meeting, the Fayette County Commission, which has a representative on the Bridge Day Commission, alleged a small group of individuals “acted to influence” the BASE jumping group to cancel its participation.
The county commission said in a statement that Ellison was misled "to believe the jumpers he represents would not have the support they required to efficiently reach the jump site or have access to medical care should they suffer an injury. This small group knew the BASE jumper withdrawal would likely result in the cancellation of Bridge Day — and, they were right."
Ellison said the statement, which did not identify the individuals or small group, was “just flat-out not true.”
“Since I've been involved with the BASE side of things since 2015 as the organizer, we've always done things as a team,” Ellison said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “We all talk and discuss things and that's not just me or one other person on the commission. That's the entire body. That's how it's always worked and that's how it works the best, when we all discuss things in the open and come to the proper decision on how to move forward with the event. And that's what we did.
“There's no conspiracies.”
The county commission statement said volunteers would have been sought from other counties in case not enough bus drivers were available and that other resources would have been made available to accommodate the needs of anyone who became sick or injured.
Tens of thousands of people typically show up from around the world on the third Saturday of October to watch parachutists, zip liners and rappellers on the 876-foot-high (267-meter) bridge. Bridge Day is the only day of the year that the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic.
Last year's Bridge Day was canceled due to the pandemic.
Ellison, who grew up in the region around the bridge, said he's already looking forward to planning next year's event.
“There's no other group of people that is more willing to be out there on that bridge on Bridge Day than myself and the BASE jumpers that I represent.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.