As signature landmarks go, Seattle has its Space Needle. Newport, Oregon has the Bay Bridge. Astorians are proud of their iconic Column.
And in Longview, Washington, you’ve got … well, let’s have Norma Davey explain. She is one of the organizers of this year’s Squirrel Fest in Longview.
“Here we are standing underneath the historic Nutty Narrows Bridge,” she says.
The skybridge is about 60 feet long. It spans a busy, tree-shaded thoroughfare and is just wide enough for… a squirrel.
“It looks somewhat like a suspension bridge or like a cable-type bridge,” Davey says. “The squirrels have informed me that they really like this design because it’s nice and open.”
I ask her if the squirrels actually use it.
“Oh, absolutely!” she answers.
But don’t squirrel usually just use utility wires to cross the road?
“Well, yeah,” Davey says. “If they can cross utility wires, they can use a fire hose.”
A flattened fire hose attached high on the tree trunks provides the on ramps to the bridge. As Davey tells it, in 1963 a construction company boss, Amos Peters, had an office facing this street. He grew tired of watching squirrels tempt death trying to cross to the other side.
“He got this brilliant idea that he would build a squirrel bridge,” Davey explains.
This weekend’s festival will celebrate the 50th anniversary of that achievement. But now, one rodent crossing is no longer enough for this Columbia River port city. In 2011, a second was added. It resembles a classic covered bridge. Earlier this year, a third went up in a cable-stayed style.
“Longview has searched for an identity and something that we could use to put the city on the map that is unique,” says local Rotary Club president Allan Erickson. “And this certainly is unique and we’re hoping it is going to be our identity here.”
Erickson says private donations cover all project expenses. Another civic group called the Sandbaggers Club is plotting a new squirrel bridge every year into the future.
“Off the record, we’re going to turn this city dark with so many bridges,” says says one of the Sandbaggers Club’s leaders, Don Cianci with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It’s going to be like a freeway system.”
The newest squirrel bridge, the city’s fourth, will be unveiled at Squirrel Fest. What it looks like remains a secret. But we can tell you it was designed and built by OBEC engineering of Eugene, which has experience rehabbing historic covered bridges.
Squirrel Fest mascot Sandy McNutt passed along this back story - set to verse:
The city, Longview Washington, way out in the west,
Has a unique party called The Squirrel Fest.
Its start has an interesting history, so here’s the story of how it all came to be.
It started long ago with a nice man, Amos Peters,
Who along with co-workers put up squirrel feeders,
For their nutty neighbors in the park who lived up in the cedars;
Efforts followed by applause from local business leaders.
From the civic park to the feeder there across the street,
The hungry little squirrels crossed the road on tiny feet.
But cars we know are big and have those deadly tires,
So when collisions happen the fragile creature soon expires.
It came one day a squirrel died with a peanut in its mouth,
As it crossed the busy road going north to south.
It was one time way too many human hearts were broken,
So Amos stood and all around him folks heard these words spoken:
We need a bridge for our squirrel friends,
Too many have met with untimely ends.
I propose an engineering plan
And over the road we erect a span.
Let’s have a bridge for our pals to cross, saving future lives from bitter loss.
It was soon approved by the formal council of the city,
Who all agreed the loss of friendly squirrels was a pity.
The architects Newhall and Dahl, designed it so it wouldn’t fall.
Kramer, structural engineer said it would last for many a year.
Bill Hutch and Amos did the build, for a thousand dollar bill.
In March 1963 the bridge was erected
Just as Amos Peters had expected.
Local councilwoman LaRiviere said,
It’s a nutty narrows hanging there.
That’s how the squirrel bridge got its name and thus began its world-wide fame.
Until 1983 the span held its sway, but it was starting to wear and tear away.
Up stepped up the Sandbagger fraternity; “Defenders of squirrel we’re called to be!”
They spruced up the bridge and made it just like new, then had a rededication party too.
The Longview squirrel mothers began to teach their young
How to cross the Nutty Narrows when their turn had come.
It’s lit with lights for holidays complete with tiny trees
When it comes to happy squirrels Longview aims to please.
When Amos Peters passed away in honor of his good,
A 10-foot statue of a squirrel went up; it’s made of wood.
It’s near the civic circle on the lawn where squirrels play
Next to our library, come and visit it some day.
The Sandbaggers who for many years called the squirrels “brothers”,
Thought, one bridge is not enough, so sought to put up others.
We should add a bridge each year starting in 2011
The squirrels here will start to think that Longview is their heaven.
The city announced a contest for a new design, the copper bridge won the vote and it is really fine.
To celebrate the second bridge, a big party was thought best, and so began the planning of the Longview Squirrel Fest…
Royal Squirrel Scribe, notary and historian
Princess Eyebright Glimmerfur
On the Web:
Longview, WA Squirrel Fest: Aug. 17, 2013 - official site
Map of Longview’s squirrel bridges - PinMaps.com