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After the Wheeler Park bridge was dismantled at the end of 2018, the city of Flagstaff distributed the pieces of the bridge it made available to the public.

Through the week, City Parks Manager Amy Hagin handed out pieces of wood to the nearly 50 people who signed up to receive a section of the bridge.

For each of those interested, Hagin said, the city offered a one-foot piece with the city's seal burned into it, as well as a two-foot section without the seal that could be used for any purpose.

Cabrina Weems is the granddaughter of Rollin Wheeler, who is the former Flagstaff mayor, citizen of the year, and park namesake. She came to obtain a piece of the bridge, because of its importance to both the city of Flagstaff and her family.

Weems said she didn’t know what she would do with the two-foot section yet, but the branded piece would likely sit atop her mantel.

Weems added she was sad to hear the bridge had to come down, and ever since it was first built, the Wheeler Park bridge had been a great part of Flagstaff.

“A lot of people congregate at the park, and if you’re contemplating life or if you were just out for a stroll downtown,” Weems said, the bridge was there for you.

“It just represents a small-town feel,” Weems said, “People can kind of relate to that, and I think that’s why they appreciate it and why they’re probably sad to see it go.”

Jennifer O’Neil said she was also sad to see the bridge taken down, but wanted a piece of Flagstaff history to remember it by.

O’Neil, who has lived in Flagstaff for about 20 years, said when her son was younger, he could never get enough of playing on the bridge.

When the two of them went to the library, O’Neil said, she and her son would park their car across from city hall in the Wheeler Park parking lot just so they could cross the bridge when they went to the library.

Her son would also always play a game called Poohsticks, made popular from Winnie the Pooh, O’Neil said.

In the game, at least two people throw a stick into the water before running to the downstream side of the bridge to see which one comes out the other side first.

Obviously, the game only worked when the Rio de Flag was flowing, O’Neil said, but the Wheeler Park Bridge was a perfect “Winnie the Pooh bridge.”

O’Neil said she plans to put the branded bridge section in her garden.

Taking Home History

Julie Elliot, a Flagstaff resident since 2004, collects a piece of the Wheeler Park bridge that was recently dismantled as an offering to the community from the City of Flagstaff Parks and Recreation Services Wednesday afternoon at the Flagstaff Aquaplex.

Karen Fillerup, who also had picked up two pieces of the bridge, said she was getting a piece of the wood for her husband who played on it as a child.

Both she and her husband grew up in Flagstaff, but Fillerup said she never played on the bridge as a child. Nonetheless, the bridge holds a special place in her heart.

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The bridge was the location of her and her husband’s first date, Fillerup said, joking without the bridge, who knows if they would have gotten married.

After making a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream, Fillerup, and her now husband, went to Wheeler Park where they walked on the bridge and got to know each other.

The two married in 2007.

Although the branded section is for her husband, Fillerup also said they haven’t decided what they might do with the second piece of wood. One idea they have considered is simply cutting it into pieces in case other friends want a piece of the bridge.

Gino Leoni holds two pieces of the Wheeler Park Bridge

Gino Leoni, City Parks Supervisor, holds two pieces of the Wheeler Park Bridge that have been heavily effected by dry rot. Parks department staff plan to preserve the pieces for themselves, perhaps mounting them on the wall of the city parks building. 

But Hagin said the city parks department won’t be giving out every section of the bridge. After dismantling it, Hagin said they decided they would keep a section of the bridge for themselves as well.

Instead of a pristine branded piece, however, Hagin said the parks staff decided to keep a section had been nearly destroyed by dry rot, which they will likely mount on the wall of the city’s parks building.

Updated for correction at 10:37 a.m. on Feb. 4. 

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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