WIMER — Four years after the dramatic collapse of the Wimer covered bridge, construction crews will begin rebuilding the National Historic Landmark today.

WIMER — Four years after the dramatic collapse of the Wimer covered bridge, construction crews will begin rebuilding the National Historic Landmark today.

The Wimer bridge was one of four covered bridges remaining in Jackson County before the wooden structure came crashing down into Evans Creek on July 6, 2003. A Wimer man and his two grandsons who were on the bridge at the time were injured and pulled from the rubble by bystanders.

As soon as the dust settled, residents began rallying to raise $139,000, their anticipated share of the reconstruction costs, said Dan Roberts, chairman of Citizens for Rebuilding the Wimer Bridge.

"This has been an incredible effort," said Roberts. "People didn't really think we'd be able to do this. Now we're turning dirt and getting ready to pour concrete."

Two federal grants, county funds and community fundraisers have netted $1.1 million estimated to cover the reconstruction project, said Jackson County Engineer Mike Kuntz. But when construction bids came in, they were 34 percent over preliminary estimates. Total project costs had climbed to $1.58 million, Kuntz said.

"The bridge industry has seen a 20 percent increase per year for the past two years," Kuntz said.

State and county officials, impressed that the community had managed to raise more than $100,000, scrambled to find more grant money to complete the project, Kuntz said.

"The feds came through and increased their offer, but that required the citizens to raise their match," said Kuntz.

News that they must raise another $100,000 was "a big blow," said Roberts.

His group had already engaged in an intensive two-year fundraising drive, raising money from sales of T-shirts, recipe books and calendars, Roberts said. They also collected donated timber from property owners and sold it to local mills. A fundraiser at Laurel Hills Golf Course in Gold Hill netted the project $9,000 last summer.

Today's ground-breaking ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m. across from the Wimer Market, shows the county has faith in the community's ability to raise the rest of the funds, Roberts said.

"We've got some promising things in the pipeline," said Roberts, adding that one local individual has promised to donate $30,000 if two other individuals will match his offer.

Meanwhile, the county will cover the citizens' portion of the $1,143,000 construction contract awarded to Timber Mountain Products of Rogue River, Kuntz said.

The bridge should be completed by fall, Kuntz said.

The new bridge design looks similar to the old span, but will have improved concrete approaches and stronger support beams. For more information, visit www.wimercoveredbridge.org online.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.