Just shy of 90, Bob Gail has been on the planet long enough to see most of the incarnations of the historic Wimer Covered Bridge.

Just shy of 90, Bob Gail has been on the planet long enough to see most of the incarnations of the historic Wimer Covered Bridge.

Gail sat proudly in the shade of the new covered bridge Sunday afternoon as crowds gathered for its official dedication, five years to the day and to the hour that it collapsed in 2003, injuring a grandfather and his two grandchildren.

"This bridge will be here 150 years from now," said the Rogue River resident, whose father, Charles Gail, was a pioneer grocer at the Wimer market and a bridge supporter. "It's so well built."

As officials gathered to say a few words before the crowds, children played under the new span as they cooled themselves off in Evans Creek. A parade also marked the occasion, along with live music.

Originally built in 1892, the span was replaced in 1927. The new $1.6 million structure has the look of the original bridge, but has some modern improvements that should keep it around for a long time.

When it collapsed into Evans Creek, investigators determined the bridge failed because of rotting timbers and from vehicles crossing the span that exceeded the six-ton limit. The new bridge is designed to support 10-ton loads, with occasional use by emergency vehicles in excess of that amount.

Gail remembers having a few words with Jackson County commissioners who wanted to tear it down in 1961. He said he pointed out to them that the land would revert back to the original property owners if they took that step and it would no longer be under county control.Like many residents who have fought over the years to keep the bridge, Gail and other community members all joined together to rebuild it, offering donations of time, money and materials.

"We set out to recreate the old bridge," said Dan Robertson, chair of Citizens for Rebuilding the Wimer Covered Bridge. "But, it really isn't the old bridge. We've maintained the character of the old bridge, but there is a lot that has been changed."

Most of the timbers are actually pressure-treated and laminated wood and held together by steel plates. The roof, which looks like wood shingles, is actually a pressed synthetic resin material that should last 50 years. Underneath, the span is supported by concrete pillars and the approaches are also designed with some of the latest engineering in mind.

The deck of the bridge is built with wood in keeping with its historic designation, which was also a requirement so that it could receive federal funding.

Robertson said that if it weren't for donations of time and lumber, the bridge would have cost in excess of $2 million. Local sugar pine was harvested and milled so it could be used to side the structure.

Robertson said the signs on the front and back are one of the few things salvaged from the previous bridge.

While some locals have said the bridge was rebuilt for "sentimental" reasons, Robertson said he has countered that it also provides an emergency route in and out of town. Fire crews recently used the bridge to help put out a fire, shaving three or more minutes off their arrival time, he said.

The first time he has ever volunteered, Robertson said it has been an interesting process that has brought together some 450 people in this small community near Rogue River.

"It's been well worth it to see the smiles today," he said.

Ryan Allard, who owns Navarro Canoe Co., said his shop was used to paint some of the lumber.

After letting his dog take a dip in the creek under the bridge, the 33-year-old Wimer resident looked up at the imposing new span.

"It's stronger than ever," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.