The historic McKee Covered Bridge over the upper Applegate River, closed to pedestrians last fall because of safety concerns, will be preserved, thanks to a $491,048 grant from Uncle Sam.

The historic McKee Covered Bridge over the upper Applegate River, closed to pedestrians last fall because of safety concerns, will be preserved, thanks to a $491,048 grant from Uncle Sam.

The grant is among 22 nationwide announced earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program. The program provides about $8 million a year in grants to repair or rehabilitate covered bridges around the country.

Although the county has received word that it has been awarded the grant, it will likely be several months before the funding is actually received, said county engineer Mike Kuntz.

Upon receiving the funding, permits must be obtained, including one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and an engineer hired to do the work, he said, adding that construction probably won't begin until the summer of 2014.

"When it's done, it will once again be open to pedestrians," Kuntz said. "It will be in much better shape for many years to come."

To help cover the $550,000 estimated repair cost, the McKee Bridge Historical Society has agreed to raise $59,000 in matching funds, according to Robert Van Heuit, the group's president.

Although the bridge is county property, the nonprofit society has taken on the responsibility for its upkeep and maintenance.

The historical society has raised more than $5,000 for the McKee Bridge restoration project, Van Heuit said. Contributions can be sent to McKee Bridge Historical Society, P.O. Box 854, Jacksonville, OR 97530.

The covered bridge, closed to vehicular traffic since 1956, became off-limits even to pedestrians after inspectors determined its supporting timbers had suffered significant wood decay.

Built in 1917, the bridge is just off Upper Applegate Road, about 16 miles south of Jacksonville.

The Oregon Bridge Engineering Co. urged county officials to close the bridge in October after determining that a significant wood rotting problem found in the bottom cord of the north truss created a potential for collapse. The firm had been hired to inspect the old bridge.

The fear was the McKee bridge could have a structural failure similar to that suffered by the historic Wimer covered bridge in 2003. The Wimer bridge has since been rebuilt.

Like many of Oregon's covered bridges, the McKee Bridge span design employs Howe truss construction, combining diagonal timbers and vertical iron rods.

Built by Jacksonville resident Jason Hartman and his brothers to allow easy crossing of the river by trucks hauling copper ore from the Blue Ledge Mine, McKee bridge was constructed on land donated by Adelbert "Deb" McKee.

The span is Oregon's fourth-oldest surviving covered bridge and the highest in the state at more than 40 feet above the stream during the average summer flow.

In addition to the McKee and Wimer covered bridges, two other covered bridges remain in Jackson County. They include the transplanted Antelope covered bridge in Eagle Point, which is under the city's jurisdiction and open only to pedestrians, and the Lake Creek covered bridge, which is on private property.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.