People of Northwest Public Radio
Thu August 15, 2013
Longview, Washington Goes Nutty Over Squirrels
It's natural to make certain assumptions about civic festivals. The Chehalis Garlic Fest will serve all things garlic. The Penticton Peach Festival will have peach cobbler. Bear stew is a big draw at the McCleary, Washington Bear Festival. But what about Longview, Washington's big celebration this Saturday, Squirrel Fest? No, they don't actually cook furry creatures at Squirrel Fest.
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.
Davey: "Here we are standing underneath the historic Nutty Narrows Bridge."
The skybridge is about 60 feet long. It spans a busy, tree-shaded thoroughfare and is just wide enough for... a squirrel.
Davey: "It looks somewhat like a suspension bridge or like a cable-type bridge. The squirrels have informed me that they really like this design because it's nice and open."
Banse: "So the squirrels actually use it?"
Davey: "Oh, absolutely!"
Banse: "I mean, because isn't that what utility wires are for?"
Davey: "Well, yeah. 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. Davey is one of the organizers of this year's Squirrel Fest in Longview. As she 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.
Davey: "He got this brilliant idea that he would build a squirrel bridge."
This weekend's festival will celebrate the fiftieth 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.
Erickson: "You know, Longview has searched for an identity and something that we could use to put the city on the map that is unique. And this certainly is unique and we're hoping it is going to be our identity here."
That's local Rotary Club president Allan Erickson. He 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 says one of its leaders, Don Cianci.
Cianci: "Off the record, we're going to turn this city dark with so many bridges. 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.
Copyright 2013 Northwest News