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MailTribune.com
  • McKee Bridge restoration fund sees goal on horizon

  • The bad news is that McKee Bridge Historical Society has to raise $12,000 by the end of January for the preliminary work in its efforts to restore the McKee Covered Bridge.
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  • The bad news is that McKee Bridge Historical Society has to raise $12,000 by the end of January for the preliminary work in its efforts to restore the McKee Covered Bridge.
    The good news? It already has some $8,000 in its covered bridge restoration fund and another $2,000 in matching funds pledged by a local medical group, according to society president Robert Van Heuit.
    "We need to raise $2,000 to reach the $12,000 by the end of next month," Van Heuit said. "That's what we need for the preliminary restoration work on the bridge."
    The Mid Rogue Independent Physician Association and CareSource/Mid Rogue Health Plan has committed to the matching funds of up to $2,000, he said. The $8,000 already in the restoration fund was the result of efforts that began last spring, he noted.
    "We feel we will make the $12,000 next month," he said. "The big problem is the $44,000 that is remaining that we will need by January of 2014 for the entire project. That will be the big hurdle."
    The historic covered bridge, built in 1917, is just off Upper Applegate Road, about 16 miles south of Jacksonville.
    Although it has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1956, it only became off-limits to pedestrians in October 2011, after inspectors determined its supporting timbers had suffered significant decay.
    The Oregon Bridge Engineering Co. urged county officials to close the bridge after determining that a significant wood-rotting problem found in the bottom of the north truss created a potential for collapse. The firm had been hired to inspect the old bridge.
    The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program earlier this year awarded a $491,048 grant to Jackson County to restore the bridge.
    Although the bridge is county property, the nonprofit society has taken on the responsibility for the span's upkeep and maintenance.
    The total cost to restore the bridge is estimated at $547,250, Van Heuit said, adding that the society is committed to raising $56,202 in matching funds to cover the rest of the cost. That includes the $12,000 needed by the end of January, he said.
    "If for some reason we don't raise all of it, they can postpone the construction part for up to 10 years," he said. "Of course, we want to get it done sooner than that."
    The restoration work is needed to prevent the McKee Bridge from suffering a structural failure similar to one at the historic Wimer Covered Bridge in 2003. The Wimer Bridge has since been rebuilt.
    Like many of Oregon's covered bridges, the McKee Bridge 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, the 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, 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.
    Anyone wanting to contribute to the McKee Bridge restoration project can send a check to MBHS, P.O. Box 854, Jacksonville, OR 97530. The society's website is www.mckeehistoricalcoveredbridge.org. The website accepts PayPal contributions, Van Heuit noted.
    For additional information, contact Van Heuit at 541-899-2927 or rvanh2000@yahoo.com.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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