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                   Thursday, November 3, 2011 - 9:02AM CDT

Lights on the New River Gorge Bridge?

By DAN ROBINSON
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25 Years of Storm Observing
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LINK: New River Gorge Bridge lighting concepts

The State of West Virginia is exploring two new projects at the New River Gorge Bridge: 1.) a new overlook on the south end of the gorge, and 2.) putting decorative lights on the bridge for nighttime display. Though I no longer live in West Virginia, the New River Gorge is still one of my favorite photography and hiking spots in Appalachia. I spent considerable time there during the nearly two decades I lived in West Virginia, and walked on the bridge at age 2 on the day it opened in 1977.

My first reaction to the lights is although they certainly look cool at first glance, I have to give the idea a big "NO". If you've ever been down in the Gorge at night - which I have been many times - the darkness and solitude is a breathtaking scene, with the only sounds coming from the rushing waters of the New River (and the occasional train). As your eyes get adjusted, the stars come out in full force behind the silhuette of the bridge. The lights would be glaringly out of place for a scene so rooted in the natural beauty of the Gorge. Such lights would be appropriate if the bridge were in a city, but not in the iconic natural landscape of the New River Gorge.

New River Gorge Bridge star trails New River Gorge Bridge lightning
Click images to enlarge

I can somewhat see another side to the argument, in that very few people ever travel down the twisting Fayette Station Road to the bottom of the Gorge in the middle of the night. The many nights I did photography there, I never saw another car. And so, any disruption to that scene would likely affect very few people, mostly campers and your average photographer like me. The lights would also prompt many more people to stop at the overlooks after dark - however, what economic benefit that would bring to the area I can't really see.

A possible compromise would be to turn the lights on for only a short time each night, maybe for the first 60 to 90 minutes after sunset. I think I could almost live with that. All told, considering the cost of the project, the questionable benefits it would bring, and the disruption to the nighttime environment in the New River Gorge brings me to give a strong thumbs-down to the idea.

New River Gorge Bridge lightning
click to enlarge

As for the new overlook, that's a "yes". The only part about that plan I would change is to put the overlook a little farther west of the bridge than is currently being considered. As it is drafted now, you would simply have a mirror-image of the north rim's upper overlook, with nearly the same photo composition opportunities. I would put any new overlook as far west as possible, which would give visitors a good and fresh third photo angle of the bridge.

Fortunately, the state is seeking public input on these plans here: WVDOT feedback site. So far, most of the comments I've read in newspapers have been against the lights - so it's likely this won't get off of the ground. However, sending your comments at that link would probably be a good idea.

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