Concrete supports are in place for the new Wimer covered bridge, which will replace the wooden bridge that collapsed in 2003. Jim Craven 10/18/2007 - Jim Craven

Covered bridge takes shape

WIMER — Concrete beams being transported through the air by a 40-foot crane don't exactly paint a historic picture, but fans are about to see their beloved covered bridge resurrected.see correction below

With the collapse of the bridge on July 6, 2003, one Wimer man and his two grandsons were injured, and hopes were crushed beneath the rubble.

Days after the disaster, residents began talking about rebuilding. In 2004, Citizens for Rebuilding the Wimer Covered Bridge was founded, and they decided to raise funds and begin the rebuilding process.

"It's been four years of hard work from so many people," said Dan Roberts, Citizen's Chairman. "We're thrilled to see things progress to this point."

Through fundraising, bidding, designing and building delays, it's been tumultuous, but the end is in sight. They broke ground in June, and the bridge is now taking shape.

Concrete columns have been erected, and now straddle the creek, and concrete beams have been placed on both sides, connecting the banks with the columns.

The middle portion of the bridge is still awaiting construction, but it's the special part: an 85-foot, wooden, covered replica of the original historic bridge that was built in 1892. With a few modern upgrades of course.

Timber Mountain Construction, which won the bid, is using all new materials for the project. They subcontracted with Western Wood Structures to build the wooden portion of the bridge.

Western Wood, based in Tualatin, will manufacture and assemble the covered bridge as a trial at their headquarters, then disassemble it, bring it to Wimer and reassemble it for the town.

"It's a complete wood structure, something like that you don't just build on site. They'll build it up there and then (once it's brought to Evans Creek), they'll final-assemble it," said Rob Pearce, president of Timber Mountain Construction.

Once the wooden structure is in place, the construction will be 80 percent completed, he said.

Before it collapsed, the bridge served as a sort of community center. It was a favorite venue for weddings, picnics, parties, dances and bands.

Dennis Rasmussen, formerly with the Citizens to Rebuild, says the bridge will be the only auto-accessible wooden covered bridge in Southern Oregon.

"There's a lot of history and community passion about reclaiming this historic landmark," Rasmussen said. "It was the center piece, the focal point of the community."

And it will be again come Jan. 31, the projected date of completion.

For Rasmussen personally, the bridge is a symbol of family tradition.

"Me and my family used to come across the bridge on the way to grandma's house," he said. "It became a family ritual when our kids were tiny to say 'hello bridge' and 'goodbye bridge.' "

It's not all nostalgia and image — it is also more practical. Without the bridge, crossing the creek is a three-mile detour.

"When it collapsed, after the shock wore off, we realized this was our one opportunity to get it back," Roberts said.

Originally total costs were estimated at around $1 million, but construction costs have skyrocketed over the last four years, and the total bid ended up being $1.7 million.

"That was devastating, almost as bad as when the bridge collapsed," Roberts said of the cost overruns.

The group has been able to meet the bid though with county supplied funds, grants, zealous fundraising, generous donations and immeasurable support from the community.

There was a huge outpouring of emotion for the project, said Roberts. And the citizens group channeled that. More than 425 individuals have contributed to the effort, including a core group of 30 to 40.

Businesses from Ashland to Roseburg stepped up to donate trees and services ranging from logging and milling to transporting and stowing materials.

"It's brought the community together even though it's not here (yet)," Roberts said.

The group is still about $100,000 short, but they continue their fundraising through online.

Megan Shreeve is an intern for the Mail Tribune.

CORRECTION: The material used for the bridge support columns was incorrectly identified in the original version of this story. This version has been corrected.

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