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Cincinnati’s new social climbers

Special to The Times

THE newest tourist attraction in Greater Cincinnati isn’t a museum, sports team, amusement park or regional mall. It’s an old bridge.

But the 134-year-old Purple People Bridge, which spans the Ohio River between Newport and downtown Cincinnati, isn’t just any old bridge. It’s been outfitted for climbing with catwalks and ladders along its trestles. And it has some eye-catching special effects, such as a sound system, a see-through glass floor -- even a bell to ring at its apex, 150 feet above the river.

It has been operating since mid-June and is billed as the first such bridge climb in North America, patterned after ones in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand.

“Ours is exhilarating and exciting,” said Dennis L. Speigel, whose International Theme Park Services spent $3 million to develop the Purple People Bridge Climb with what he calls “show biz elements.” It’s being marketed as a family adventure for those 12 and older and at least 4 feet tall. “It’s meant to be fun with a wonderful view and an experience you can’t legally get anywhere else.”

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The experience is not like rappelling or rock-climbing; it’s more like a strenuous hike on a mountain trail.

The climb affords scenic views of a busy river and Cincinnati, whose downtown has undergone extensive residential and recreational redevelopment along its riverfront.

The 2,670-foot bridge primarily carried train and auto traffic until declining use caused Kentucky to consider demolishing it. But after a $4-million conversion, a nonprofit northern Kentucky group called Southbank Partners opened it in 2003 as a pedestrian-only bridge. The name comes from its color and partly is in tribute to Sheb Wooley’s 1958 hit song, “The Purple People Eater.”

Speigel created a “base camp” in Newport on the Levee entertainment complex on the southern side of the bridge. There, climbers don purple-and-yellow jumpsuits, which are a promotional tool and safety requirement. (They are designed to keep items in your pockets from falling onto pedestrians below.) Climbers are not allowed to carry cellphones, cameras or heavy jewelry. Lanyards are provided to keep eyeglasses from falling off. Harnesses that climbers attach to a safety cable fit over the jumpsuit.

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The bridge climb is slated to be open year-round, except during dangerous weather. Guided group tours take 2 1/2 hours, including preparation. In summer, they depart every 20 minutes 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, sunrise to 11 p.m. Saturdays, sunrise to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

For information, call (859) 261-6837 or see www.purplepeoplebridgeclimb.com. General admission day climbs are $59.95; sunrise, sunset and night climbs are $79.95.


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