The Applegate River has its origins in northern California and drops into its own serene valley past Jacksonville before contributing to the Rogue River a few miles west of Grants Pass. The river was subjected to heavy placer mining from 1850 to 1890 and the salmon fishery was badly disrupted in the upper valley. It’s hard to see the past damage today. The valley is wooded and green with pastures. The river was named in honor of Lindsay Applegate, one of the early pioneers of the Oregon Trail. A substantial deposit of copper was discovered in the early 1900’s and the Blue Ledge Mine was developed on the California side of the border. The town-site “Copper” was built and was such a boomtown, it had its own post office from 1924 to 1932. With the demands of settlement and development of the valley, roads were developed to replace the old wagon trails of past years.
In 1964 congress approved construction of a dam on the Applegate to mitigate flooding and assist in irrigation, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the Corp of Engineers began work on the project. In 1980 the lake was filled and the old town-site of Copper was inundated.
One element that remains from the heyday of the mines is an old covered wooden bridge called the McKee Bridge. It was built to accommodate road travellers and ore haulers during the time of the mining activity. It has taken a series of restoration efforts, both public and private, to revive the bridge from the ravages of time and weather. Today it is reserved for pedestrian traffic and is the hub of local celebrations. The bridge is maintained by a civic-minded group called “Mckee Historical Covered Bridge Society”.
I first visited this valley last year in June. The area was amidst a long drought period. The water level at Applegate Lake was about 25 feet below the level I saw on this day. Storms have delivered a healthy dose of moisture and snow this year. It would seem the drought is over here in Southern Oregon.
Images from this day can be seen below: