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Robbie Knievel takes a leap of faith — over the Ohio River

By Staff | Aug 29, 2013

Daredevil Robbie Knievel stands above the Ohio River during a private reception for him in Boaz, W.Va., recently. Knievel was visiting the area planning for his motorcycle jump from Marietta to West Virginia (landing on a barge in the Ohio River) planned for October. (Photo by Jeff Baughan/Parkersburg News and Sentinel)

Before Robbie Knievel jumps from Ohio to West Virginia on a motorcycle, another man will cross the Ohio River on a tight rope suspended between two cranes.

Rick Wallenda – grandson of Flying Wallendas patriarch Karl Wallenda and cousin to Nic Wallenda, whose recent walk on a tightrope over a gorge near the Grand Canyon drew national attention – said he is joining Knievel for the Ohio River stunt in Marietta, now scheduled for Oct. 19.

“This is going to be a super-cool thing – Wallenda and Knievel ride again,” said Wallenda, 58, during a recent phone call from the Evel Knievel Days festival in Butte, Montana.

Wallenda’s grandfather, Karl, and Robbie Knievel’s father, Evel, performed together years ago. Rick and Robbie met at last year’s Knievel Days and “started talking about we need to put this show back on the road,” Wallenda said.

The first place they plan to do that is Marietta, where Wallenda’s walk on a 1,200-foot tight rope suspended between two cranes will precede what’s expected to be Knievel’s last jump in the United States – from a barge on the Ohio side of the river to one on the West Virginia side, which Knievel has estimated is equal to jumping 30 cars.

While on the rope, Wallenda plans to do the headstand his grandfather taught him. The rope will be 100 feet longer than the one on which Karl Wallenda performed in Georgia in 1974.

“I’m actually going to be breaking my grandfather’s record if I do the headstand,” he said.

The exact height of the rope won’t be known until Wallenda checks out the site.

It won’t be his first trip to the area. He and his family performed with a circus multiple times in Parkersburg, and his grandfather even walked on a tight rope across Parkersburg High School’s Stadium Field in the ’70s.

The event is being put on in part to kick off the planned Ohio Outdoor Heaven project, Marietta resident Wei Sheng’s vision for a world-class recreation and entertainment complex he plans to have built off Interstate 77 between Ohio 60 and 821. Plans call for an amphitheater, five-star hotel, convention center, zipline, hiking and biking trails, gun and archery ranges, video games and more on 102 acres. Sheng has said the $50 million or more project could create as many as 500 jobs.

“Exit 6 off Interstate 77 is going to be a hot spot,” he said.

The tentative date for the stunt has been moved a few times, but appears to have settled on the third weekend in October. Sheng said it was pushed back from late September to allow Wallenda to participate, and moved one more week so it wouldn’t conflict with Marietta College’s homecoming weekend. They can’t go any later because of concerns over the weather, he said.

While the main stunts will be on Saturday, Oct. 19, Sheng said the event will be stretched out over several days, from Oct. 16-20.

“We’re going to have bands; we’re going to have activities; we’re going to have stunt rides,” he said, adding that charity events would also be included.

Not long after the event was announced, organizers were discussing a concert at Marietta College’s Don Drumm Stadium, but Sheng said more recently that they’re looking at bringing in a major act that could require even more space, so they’ve been in talks with the West Virginia Motor Speedway in Mineral Wells.

The Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau has already fielded some calls about the event, but officials have been waiting for the details to be finalized before they start making promotional materials.

“There’s definitely been interest; that’s for sure,” said Casey Knowlton, public relations and social media coordinator for the bureau. “We’re hearing large numbers. We’re hearing that it could really be national in terms of news coverage.

“It could be the largest event that Marietta has seen – ever,” he said.

Vienna, W.Va., resident Cathy Mutz expects her nephew, a motorcycle enthusiast in his 20s, to come to town for the jump.

“He’s really into all kinds of bikes,” she said. “I know he will come here from Delaware to see this if he can.”

Mutz said she and some of her friends plan to attend as well.

“I think it’s awesome for Marietta,” she said.

Derek Ryan, 23, who works at a Harmar business on Marietta’s west side, also wants to be on the scene.

When he heard what was planned, “I was shocked,” Ryan said. “Not something you’d expect from a little town. It’s still a little town to me. But it’s getting bigger.”

Sheng said he’s heard some pessimism about both the jump and his plans for Outdoor Heaven, but he believes both have something else in common.

“This truly represents the American dream,” he said. “The American dream is based on taking risks, being creative and being imaginative.”

Sheng said he’s still working with investors on Outdoor Heaven, but plans are moving forward and he recently received architectural renderings for the amphitheater. Physical work should begin at the site in one or two months, he said.

When Knievel was asked about the type of motorcycle he would be using for the jump, he replied, “One you can’t ride. It is rocket powered, a one-of-a-kind Knievel bike.”

Knievel noted that at 51 years old, he has lasted longer in the daredevil arena than his famous father, who retired in 1975 at the age of 36. Knievel also said he can motorcycle jump twice as far as Evel could, because “I have a better bike.”

According to the performer, he has broken 20 bones and suffered a concussion, shoulder separation and torn ligaments during motorcycle stunts.

Knievel said his family has a strong fan base in Ohio. Robbie jumped over 24 Coke Zero trucks at Kings Island near Cincinnati in 2008. Evel jumped over 14 buses at Kings Island in 1975.

Robbie jumped across the Grand Canyon in 1999. He said one of his most difficult motorcycle jumps was between two 16-story Jockey Club towers – a distance of 130 feet – in Las Vegas in 1999.

He has not jumped in 1 years, he said. “The Ohio deal sounded interesting, cool,” Knievel said.

The Knievels have dedicated their shows to the U.S. troops, Robbie said. He said they also support programs that help children and law enforcement agencies.

“It would be a last hurrah for Knievel,” Sheng said.

“I am looking forward to it,” Knievel said.

Paul LaPann of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel contributed.