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How a squirrel bridge in Longview turned into a city's love for rodents

In 1963, the first squirrel bridge was erected after architect Amos Peters noticed dead squirrels in the road as he walked to work. Today there are eight bridges.

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Ever played the game Frogger? It's an old arcade game where the player tries to safely get their frog to cross a busy-multi lane road without getting run over.

So take that example and replace it with a squirrel. That is a squirrel's predicament everywhere when trying to cross the road from the ground; a game of dashing and darting across a wide street and trying not to die in the process.

In 1963 when Amos Peters, a local architect, was walking to work he noticed dead squirrels in the street. He knew something had to be done.

Credit: Roger Peters

"So him and a bunch of other pranksters got together and they built the first squirrel bridge. They built it out of antenna stock, so it was really lightweight." said Rick Johnson, president of the Sandbaggers Club.

It's called Nutty Narrows and it spans the width of Olympia Way in Longview.

The bridge isn't exactly a major freeway for squirrels. There are no traffic jams or bridge lifts, but spend enough time looking at one of the squirrel bridges and you're bound to see one cross.

"The squirrels use them," Johnson said.

The Sandbaggers are a group of men and women who are known for their nuttiness.

"We do things, then we ask for forgiveness later," Johnson said.

In 2010 to celebrate Nutty Narrows, the group organized a free family event called Squirrel Fest. Every year since, hundreds of people gather in the Civic Circle at R.A. Long Park for games, music and food. This year's event is August 20. To be clear: Squirrels are not on the menu. 

"We usually find one or two people that come to our event and say, 'Down south, we eat them things!' Up here, we look at them differently," Johnson said with a smile.

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At almost every Squirrel Fest since the first one, a new bridge is unveiled and hung. There are 8 bridges total around and near Lake Sacajawea in Longview.

There's the Safety Awareness Bridge, designed and constructed by the Bits and Bots Robotics Club from R.A. Long and Mark Morris High Schools.

Then there's the John R. Dick Bridge, which is a replica of a bridge in Boston.

The R.D. Olson bridge resembles the Lewis and Clark Bridge that spans the Columbia from Longview to Rainier. 

The S & R Squirrel Bridge is an exact replica of the Fremont Bridge with a squirrel theme.

The OBEC Squirrel Bridge is constructed of Redwood and steel

The Bruce Kamp bridge is made of copper and stainless steel. It was the first covered squirrel bridge in the world, according to organizers.

The PUD of Cowlitz County Bridge was built to remember all the squirrels that lost their lives in power outages.

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"Every bridge is different. Every bridge was built by either a company or corporation or something. It's their own design, but we have our input on their design as far as trying to make them stay up," said Johnson.

Squirrel Fest may only last a day, but the celebration of the bridges continues through the holidays. Every year, Nutty Narrows gets decorated for the holidays with lights and a tree.

Amos Peters died in 1984 and to honor his contribution to the city's love of squirrels, The Sandbaggers erected a statue of a 10 foot tall wooden squirrel near Nutty Narrows.

Nutty Narrows was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

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