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Province weighing its options for Eagle Pass Lookout after unauthorized rebuild

Click to play video: 'B.C. weighing options for Eagle Pass Lookout' B.C. weighing options for Eagle Pass Lookout
WATCH: The province is weighing its options for the future of a remote fire lookout cabin in the Shuswap. Megan Turcato reports. – Apr 15, 2021

The province is weighing its options for the future of a remote fire lookout cabin in the Shuswap that’s become a popular recreation destination.

In 2016, a group of volunteers built the cabin on the stone foundation of a historic fire lookout that had fallen into ruin.

Read more: Sicamous man fined $20,000 for work fixing up Eagle Pass Fire Lookout

However, the rebuild was unauthorized.

At least one person was fined for their involvement in the project, a stop-work order was issued, and fearing the work might be demolished, 13,000 people signed a petition against tearing it down.

Seven options presented for lookout's future

Since then, the province asked the Shuswap Trail Alliance to consult stakeholders and produce a report on the options for the site.

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That recently-completed report lays out seven options, from rebuilding the fire lookout as it would have looked in the 1920s, when it was first constructed, to removing the whole thing or returning it to its stone foundation.

A director for the local snowmobile club feels removing the structure would be a waste.

“It would be a real kick in the pants for those people that actually went and spent all that time building that cabin to where it is today,” said Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club director Gord Bushell.

Bushell said around $35,000 to $40,000 of donated funds and countless volunteer hours went into rebuilding the cabin.

The Shuswap Trail Alliance said a compromise option would be fixing up the cabin, but not to its original historical condition, and possibly using some of the materials already on site.

“It would take the essence of the historic and heritage values of it and then adapt that historic place for continuing use, but still in a way that honours and acknowledges its heritage,” Shuswap Trail Alliance executive director Phil McIntyre-Paul said.

The Shuswap Trail Alliance said in its current state, the cabin, which is high on a mountaintop between Sicamous and Revelstoke, is causing a lot of impact on an environmentally-sensitive area.

“There is a lot of garbage, there is toilet paper, there are no washroom facilities up there,” said McIntyre-Paul.

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“All of that has to be considered in an overall comprehensive management plan…and right now none of that exists.”

Click to play video: 'Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold' Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold
Province puts volunteer Eagle Pass lookout restoration project on hold – Oct 9, 2017

The Trail Alliance report says, in the last two years, the condition of the rebuilt lookout has declined. Issues at the site have included a rodent infestation and broken windows.

The report also notes that the rebuilt structure isn’t ideal from a heritage conservation perspective.

The report points out that “irreversible” spray foam insulation was used taking away from the “integrity of the character-defining elements.”

There was also concern expressed in the report that the weight of the new additions could be too much for the foundation, “which could cause stress fractures and failure of the foundation.”

Alpine club and snowmobile club both want to manage site

Whiles some roof repair work was recently done with the province’s blessing, Bushell believes the new-build wouldn’t be in such rough shape if a stop-work order had never been issued.

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Bushell would like to see the Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club be allowed to fix up the existing building and manage the lookout for day use.

“With a little bit of time and just a little bit of club money, not taxpayers’ money, we could actually fix this thing up and make it a very useful rec site,” Bushell said.

Click to play video: 'Sicmaous man involved in Eagle Pass Lookout restoration fined $20,000' Sicmaous man involved in Eagle Pass Lookout restoration fined $20,000
Sicmaous man involved in Eagle Pass Lookout restoration fined $20,000 – May 2, 2019

The Alpine Club of Canada has also expressed interest in managing the site and allowing overnight visitors.

However, the group says that option doesn’t seem to be getting any traction with the province.

“Whether they want people to use it as a day-use site or not, people are going to overnight there,” said Ben Wilkey with the Alpine Club of Canada’s Columbia Mountains Section.

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“You need to set it up accordingly as far as outhouses and garbage and that kind of thing.”

Read more: Volunteer effort to reconstruct Shuswap fire lookout in limbo as province investigates

Wilkey believes Alpine Club of Canada management should be considered because, he says, the hut will need constant maintenance or will fall into disrepair.

“Without constant grant funding to put in and a body that is willing to do that maintenance and repairs,… it is just going to deteriorate rapidly,” Wilkey said.

“That is what we specialize in, using our hut fees as a non-profit group to put back into the hut every year so that people can enjoy the area.”

In response to Wilkey’s concern that the cabin needs to be maintained for overnight use, the province says if overnight or day use is allowed it will “ensure the management approach for the structure is appropriate.”

The province says the public consultation on the future of the site will continue and there is no timeline for making a decision.

In the meantime, the Shuswap Trail Alliance is urging visitors to pack out their garbage and endeavour to leave no trace behind.

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