River jumper scouts 2-state stunt

There have been times when Robbie Knievel figured he’d done just about every motorcycle jump there is to do.

Then he got on the phone with Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.

“He goes, ‘You want to jump state to state?'” Knievel, 51, recalled Wednesday, while on the Ohio River Levee.

Matthews was on a conference call with Marietta resident Wei Sheng and people Sheng was working with on a planned $50 million entertainment and outdoor activity complex just outside the city. Some of those involved knew Knievel and suggested getting in touch with him to help promote the venture.

Matthews asked Knievel if he’d ever jumped from one state to another. Turns out, he hadn’t.

And Knievel’s stunt coordinator, Spanky Spangler, a veteran stuntman with more than 22,000 stunts to his credit, said he’s never heard of another jump like it.

“He’s a legend, and he’s making history every time he jumps,” said Spangler, who has worked with Knievel for more than 30 years.

On Wednesday, Knievel and Spangler headed out on the Ohio River to scout the location where Knievel plans to jump from a barge on the Ohio side near the levee in Marietta to another on the Williamstown side.

The jump is tentatively planned for the third weekend in September and likely will be Knievel’s last in the United States.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “Just ’cause the body can’t take it anymore.”

Knievel does have designs on another jump after this one though. It would take place at Wembley Stadium in London, where his father, legendary daredevil Evel Knievel, crashed after jumping 13 double-decker buses.

“I’m going to try to jump 16,” Robbie Knievel said.

Knievel estimated the distance of his Ohio River jump will be about the equivalent of jumping 30 cars.

“It’s going to be a long ways,” he said.

The exact distance won’t be known until he and Spangler work out the technical details of the stunt. They took the first step Wednesday, going out on the water with a couple barges similar to what will be used for the jump.

“Now we got a lot better idea what’s going to happen with this,” Spangler said. “It looks good.”

Both Knievel and Spangler said Marietta looks to be an ideal setting for the stunt. Knievel plans to return to the area for the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival to promote his stunt and spend time in the area prior to the jump.

“I’m going to come in early and play some golf. I like it here,” he said.

The activity on the river drew the attention of onlookers Wednesday, including Scottsdale, Ariz., resident Constantino Malone. Malone, 50, is in town for work, but said he’d like to return in the fall as a spectator for Knievel’s jump.

“I’m going to try like heck to get here,” he said.

Malone said he’s not only impressed with what Knievel is attempting but also the age at which he’s doing it.

“It’s a lot to do at 50 years old,” he said. “God bless him, and I wish him the best.”

Matthews said the fact that this would be Knievel’s last stunt in the U.S. and the value of the family name should draw a massive crowd.

“This event with Robbie could probably be one of the greatest events ever to hit Marietta,” he said.

Mick Maag, who is working on the event with Sheng and Canton-based marketing company INEM3 Media, said they’re looking to have a concert in conjunction with the stunt, with Knievel’s daughter, Krysten, expected to be one of the performers. He also emphasized that the entire affair will be family friendly.

“Robbie’s very family oriented,” said Blake Monea, with INEM3 Media.

Maag said he’d like to see the stunt spawn an annual event in the area.

It will also serve as a kickoff for Sheng’s planned Ohio Outdoor Heaven, which he and his partners plan to construct on 102 acres of property off the Lower Salem exit of Interstate 77, between Ohio 60 and 821. They plan for it to have a five-star hotel, indoor shooting range, kayaking, video games, skate park, retail space and more, including a 10,000-seat amphitheater, said John Hughes, vice president of entertainment for Outdoor Heaven Inc.

“It will be like a Walt Disney World for the outdoor sports enthusiast, mixed with entertainment,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the area is a great location because of its presence along I-77, a main corridor from Cleveland to the Carolinas.

Sheng said that like the stunt event, he wants Ohio Outdoor Heaven to be a family destination, providing something for each member of the family as well as activities for them to enjoy together.

“I call it a cruise ship on dry land,” he said.

Sheng wants to market the destination to people around the country and the world. He also has designs on developing a similar complex in China.