By Shirley Shuman
Rusty Ware currently has a “side job” which he says addresses three of his major fears. “I’ve always feared heights, public speaking, and being unemployed,” Ware said. “Conducting tours of the Bridge Walk below the New River Gorge Bridge has helped me overcome two of those plus I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing.” He explained how he began conducting the Bridge Walk tours.
“My family, even knowing my fear of heights, purchased a ticket as a gift for me. Although hesitant, I decided to try it,” Ware said, after explaining that the walkway is 25 feet below the bridge but some 800 feet above the swirling water. “I found the walk interesting despite my nervousness and soon found myself with an annual pass which I was determined to use often,” he added. He completed another Bridge Walk in June and found the experience worthwhile and the scenery beautiful. A trip in February proved very cold but still rewarding, and suddenly Ware, semi-retired from his position at Braxton County Memorial Hospital, realized he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had also made friends with the inspectors for whom the walkway had originally been built.
Soon those in charge approached Ware and asked him if he wanted a job as a Bridge Walk tour guide. Uncertain at first, Ware finally agreed to work one day a week—Wednesday. Typically, he took three groups across each Wednesday. Then, because of an increase in walkers, in April and May he worked Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “I was doing two or three tours a day during that time,” he said. “I would walk across with one group and, after being shuttled back to the other side, find another group ready to go.”
The tours, which are offered throughout the year except on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving, are offered only from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. during winter and early spring. During May through October, walks are available every two hours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. no matter the weather. “The bridge itself shields the walkers from rain and snow,” Ware noted, although it doesn’t shield them from wind or the cold.”
People from all over the United States and from areas throughout the world have been among the groups Ware has toured. One day recently, he guided a group of Boy Scouts from Ohio, a group from Minnesota, and another from New York City. He finds it interesting that he has even had college students on spring break come for the Bridge Walk. “Of course there are other attractions in the area, including the national park along with rock climbing and activities on the river,” he said. Ware believes that one reason for the attraction to the walk is that the New River Gorge National Park is one of the newest in the nation and visitors there gravitate to the walk.
Asked about language problems when guiding individuals from other countries, Ware explained that he has had groups including individuals who speak no English, but, he said, “there have always been a few among those groups who do know English.”
During the tour, Ware provides a wide range of information. He explained that he discusses the history of the bridge and its structure. “I’ve always been fascinated with the symmetry of the structural engineering of this bridge,” he said, “and I enjoy talking about it. Of course I give them the length of the bridge and its distance above the New River. I also explain that the Bridge Walk is 25 feet below the bridge itself.”
He also talks about the park, about the railroad tracks and the three coal trains which run underneath the bridge every day. Then there is the Amtrack Cardinal Line which runs from Chicago to New York City on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Here he noted that this is not a tourist train but a regular passenger train. And one fact Ware never fails to mention is that the New River itself, which flows south to north, is one of the oldest rivers in the world.
Obviously, Rusty Ware has overcome his fear of heights along with his fear of public speaking. He thoroughly enjoys his work and has become one of the popular guides for the Bridge Walk. One Braxton Countian, retired teacher Suzanne Cunningham, said she and her family really enjoyed his guidance on the walk they took. “He’s wonderful,” Cunningham said. “He does such a thorough job of explaining everything and gives walkers time to enjoy the view. He even takes pictures of groups and shares them later. He really takes good care of you.”
One person’s view? Yes, but it reflects the views of most of the walkers whom this man guides across the Bridge Walk. Apparently Rusty Ware’s fear of heights and fear of public speaking have been replaced by an enjoyment of meeting new people and guiding them across the Bridge Walk.