The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has chosen to remove unauthorized work done on the historic Eagle Pass fire lookout. (Contributed)

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has chosen to remove unauthorized work done on the historic Eagle Pass fire lookout. (Contributed)

‘Beyond belief’: Decision made to remove unauthorized work at historic Shuswap fire lookout

Salvageable material at Eagle Pass lookout to be saved for possible future restoration project

Like the structure it replaced, a rehabilitated former Shuswap fire lookout may soon become history.

According to an email obtained by the Observer from Rec Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC ) – part of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) – the existing structure, built on the foundation of the Eagle Pass Dominion Lookout, will not be repaired. Instead it will be “restored by a heritage professional under contract… to the state it was in immediately previous to the unauthorized improvements in 2016.”

Prior to the new construction, what remained of the 1922 lookout had been described as dilapidated rock walls and foundation.

With volunteer labour and donations, local outdoor enthusiasts constructed a 14-by-14 foot flat-roof structure on the site. In September 2017, a stop work order was issued by the province preventing its completion. Individuals behind the project said they had talked to officials at Front Counter BC, and had left thinking no formal approval was needed to do the work. They later learned a permit was needed, and FLNRORD initiated an investigation into unauthorized work.

A Dec. 2017 Heritage Conservation Impact Statement on the site noted numerous ways in which the rehabilitated (not restored) structure failed to reflect heritage values, along with structural concerns. Among them, the report noted a flat roof may cause “excessive pressure on the historic foundation, as additional weight of the snow load may be more than acceptable for the building’s base.” It also commented on the mortar used, and how “changing the mortar and building method of the stone foundation impacts the integrity of workmanship used to build the foundation from materials found on-location.”

“The stone foundation was originally constructed with commonly used practices for the time (1922); the addition of modern materials erases the authenticity of this aspect of the feat of building a lookout in a rugged location such as Eagle Pass,” reads the report.

Also presented was a habitat impact statement which noted the area of the cabin is used by mountain caribou, mountain goats and grizzly bears. It recommended restricted helicopter access to the area and the installation of signage warning people to leave the area clean, not feed wildlife and keep their distance from animals. It also suggested the cabin should be locked in the winter to minimize the disturbance to goats and caribou, and that overnight use should not be permitted unless proper waste management was put in place.

An Eagle Pass Lookout working group was formed to consider options for the structure. From that came the decision to dismantle the work done, possibly in 2022, with salvageable material being saved for use in a potential future lookout rehabilitation project.

“RSTBC will provide an opportunity to involve community volunteers in the dismantling of the unauthorized structure and restoration of the previous structure,” reads the email.

After the stop work order was issued, local politicians supportive of the work done began speaking out. Among them was Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, Splatsin band councillors and the District of Sicamous.

Sicamous Coun. Gord Bushell was one of those politicians who worked to preserve work done on the structure. He said it is “beyond belief” the RTSBC would tear it down.

“I’m really at a loss for words,” said Bushell, frustrated by the news. “I’ve never seen something so ridiculous in my life, wanting to take it down and put it back up.”

Asked about the deficiencies, Bushell said there was nothing wrong with the structure and that the ministry was looking for reasons to tear it down. He did say the structure has sustained some damage since the stop work order was issued.

“The structure itself was not finished and one of the things they should have done was built some weather shutters to stop the snow pressure from pushing in on the window, because it’s completely snowed in, you can’t use it in the winter time,” said Bushell. “They wouldn’t let us finish it or even work on it, so it’s in need of repair.”

Members of the Splatsin Band have taken part in the working group. A Cultural Heritage Overview Assessment recommended by the group would involve working with the band to determine the historical use of the area and if the restored lookout would be compatible. If so, and a community partner commits to ongoing maintenance, the RSTBC would consider rehabilitating the fire lookout structure for day use only, “with the assistance of a heritage building conservation specialist.”

The Shuswap Trail Alliance (STA) has been tasked to complete an Adaptive Plan for the Eagle Pass and Twin Lakes Area – work that was put on hold this summer due to wildfires.

STA executive director Jen Bellhouse said the adaptive plan involves looking at what improvements can be made on the trail leading up to Eagle Pass as well as options for overnight stays in the area. She suggested the Twin Lakes area would be more suitable for a rec site with the correct facilities such as an outhouse.

“Twin Lakes would maybe be a little more hospitable to set up a campground,” said Bellhouse.
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