TWIN FALLS • Up to 400 BASE jumpers may flock to Twin Falls in October, riled by a West Virginia event’s new rules that require jumpers to be fingerprinted.
The Bridge Day Commission in Fayetteville, W. Va., voted unanimously Wednesday to require BASE jumpers, rappellers and vendors to undergo fingerprint scans for the annual event.
Jumpers criticized the requirement, citing privacy concerns and what they called an adversarial relationship with West Virginia State Police. Now, they’re threatening to move the festival to Twin Falls, which has no restrictions for BASE jumpers.
Tennessee BASE jumper Alan Lewis organized an event called “The Other Bridge Day 2015” promoting Twin Falls and started a Facebook page that’s garnered more than 200 likes.
“My hopes and my plans for the Other Bridge Day is to show people in Fayetteville that we’re not criminals that we can come to Twin Falls, we can stay at the hotels, they give us discounts, we go out to the restaurants. We shop locally,” Lewis said.
Twin Falls is a mecca for BASE jumpers, Lewis said. “We’re trying to show the people of Fayetteville that we can do it in Twin Falls without the overbearing presence of the police.”
In West Virginia, event organizers said the fingerprint scans were for security and would be checked against a terrorist watch list. They said the scans were less intrusive than the one-day festival’s current background checks.
“It’s the simplest, most effective way to do it,” West Virginia State Police Sgt. K.E. Tawes, a commission member, told the Associated Press.
BASE stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, the fixed objects from which jumpers leap with a parachute.
Urging others to travel to Twin Falls instead was an easy decision, Lewis said. Year-round legal BASE jumping, no need for permits and a good relationship between jumpers and law enforcement were all selling points.
“Twin Falls is just so much more welcoming.”
Twin Falls-based professional BASE jumper Sean Chuma and other local BASE jumpers have stepped up to assist jumpers from around the country who want to organize a Twin Falls event.
“We’re trying to work with the city to coordinate the event,” he said.
With possibly hundreds of BASE jumpers coming, things like portable toilets, medical staff on standby and possibly security will need to be organized.
“We want it to be a good thing. We don’t want everyone to come out and there not be organization,” Chuma said. “We want it to be positive for BASE jumping as a sport and for Twin Falls.”
Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce President and City Council member Shawn Barigar said Chuma and other local BASE enthusiasts contacted him about their plans.
“Next week we’ll get together and talk about what they’re thinking about and how as a community we can assist them,” he said.
“It’s going to have an impact,” Barigar said. “Let’s talk about how to manage that.”
The annual Perrine Bridge festival in September usually draws 20 to 40 BASE jumpers over a few hours, and a big weekend like Memorial Day could have up to 100.
“We’ve never had issues,” Chuma said. “There’s plenty of room on the bridge.”
Jason Bell owns Vertical Visions, the company that sells permits for BASE jumping on Bridge Day in West Virginia. He previously did the event’s background checks months in advance of Bridge Day. Now jumpers would be required to stand in a line the day before and risk being turned away, he said.
Bell doubts many jumpers will make an appearance at Bridge Day.
“We’re like a union,” he said. “We’re like a group of angry Harley riders.”
West Virginia’s Bridge Day and Twin Falls go hand in hand, Bell said. Many BASE jumpers come to Twin Falls in the summer before heading to Fayetteville’s 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge in October.
“We all know about it. I’ve jumped off your bridge plenty of times,” he said. “They’re both great structures, but it’s kind of like the party died.”
Twin Falls is seen by BASE jumpers as a friendly place. That’s partially because of the state’s willingness to work with jumpers and the city building camaraderie over time, Barigar said.
At the visitor center, the chamber provides space for jumpers to pack their chutes and offers them water. The new visitor center was built with BASE jumping in mind, including a large grassy area and shade.
“They’re valuable visitors to our region,” Barigar said.