A popular Shuswap, B.C., hiking destination at the centre of a long-running controversy has burnt down.
It’s unclear what sparked the fire at the Eagle Pass Fire Lookout site, but the blaze creates new questions about the location’s future.
On Tuesday, Jason Reedyk and a friend hiked up to the site, high on a mountain between Sicamous and Revelstoke, only to find the cabin that had been built on the lookout’s historic stone foundation had been reduced to char and ash.
Reedyk said the pair was shocked as the structure looked normal in recent pictures of the site posted online.
“It is a loss for the hiking community,” he said.
The hikers ended up using what they could find on site to put out a remaining hot spot that was still smouldering when they arrived.
The blaze is only the latest twist in the lookout’s story.
Six years ago a group of volunteers spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars building a cabin on the historic foundation, but the rebuild was unauthorized and the province issued a stop work order.
Fearing that the cabin would be demolished, 13,000 people signed a petition against tearing it down.
So for some, like Sicamous councillor Gord Bushell, news of the fire is devastating.
“There were people from all over the world that came to the Interior of B.C. to hike to the Eagle Pass Lookout. It could have been the eighth wonder of the world,” said Bushell.
However, there had been no final resolution to the fate of the unauthorized cabin before the blaze.
Supporters saw the rebuild as a grassroots effort to restore the structure and provide a new amenity for the public.
Critics, including the provincial government, saw the rebuild as an infringement on public property and worried about the impact on the environment and the historic elements of the building.
Last year the Shuswap Trail Alliance completed a report that outlined seven options for the site for the provincial government to consider.
The options included everything from rebuilding the fire lookout as it would have looked in the 1920s, when it was first constructed, to removing the whole thing.
However, stakeholders say, before the fire, the province had yet to take action at the site.
Now that the site has burnt, the new question is what’s next?
Bushell would like to see a structure rebuilt.
“It would be nice to see it done properly with an application and also some services. The problem Eagle Pass was having was the quantity of people going up there,” said Bushell.
He believes whether a structure is rebuilt or not, the site ultimately needs to be managed to address issues like garbage and washroom facilities.
The Shuswap Trail Alliance does not have a view on what happens with the structure.
“Ultimately, the Shuswap Trail Alliance would just like to see care for the land, as best as we can, to be stewards for the area,” said Jen Bellhouse, the group’s executive director.
The province says it has yet to make a decision about the future of structures at the Eagle Pass Fire Lookout site and consultations will continue.