SHUSWAP - It looks like something from the Swiss Alps, but it's right here in the Shuswap.
Accessed via the Crazy Creek Forest Service Road and a rigorous two-and-a-half hour hike, the tiny cabin at the Eagle Pass fire lookout — which was built in the 1920s — sits at the top of a dramatic mountain peak near Sicamous.
B.C. hasn’t relied on fire lookouts for years, but the unique — and typically very picturesque — locations have been found and embraced by outdoor enthusiasts and tourists. Several years ago, the provincial government even decided to restore a number of them citing historical significance and tourism benefits.
But Rene St. Onge from Sicamous says the Eagle Pass fire lookout never got any grant money, so he and some other locals decided to fix it up themselves.
“I know people in this town whose great grandfathers built it and manned it,” St. Onge says.
He first hiked to the lookout as a kid and says it “feels like you’re on Everest” at the top. He says there have also been reports of a rare phenomenon called the "halo effect" at the top, where you can see your reflection in the air, although he hasn't experienced it himself.
“It’s probably the best hike in B.C.,” St. Onge says. “We’ve had people from all over the world up there — Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, Norway.”
Over the past few years, St. Onge and others raised about $21,000 to restore the cabin, including a new roof, new windows, and beams — all of which were flown in by helicopter because there is no road access. St. Onge estimates about 550 man hours went into the project, but says it’s all come to a grinding halt due to a complaint.
“We have one small, special interest group who’s upset that we fixed it up,” St. Onge says, declining to name the group. “Now Forestry has received a complaint, and it seems like there’s no common sense.”
St. Onge says the Province has now placed a stop work order on the cabin and is investigating the complaint.
No one from the Ministry of Forests was available for an interview today, however a spokesperson provided a written statement. In it, the Ministry says the cabin “appears to have been built without authorization” and the matter is now under investigation. As for what happens next, the Ministry says a “delegated decision-maker” can decide whether the structure is in contravention of the Forest and Range Practices Act and would have the authority to order the site left as is, levy a penalty, or order remediation of the site.
“Before any decision is made, the delegated decision-maker would give those involved in building the structure the opportunity to present their evidence and rationale,” the Ministry says.
To complicate things further, St. Onge maintains he did in fact have verbal approval from the Ministry of Forests and Front Counter B.C. to restore the lookout from the beginning.
“They were excited about us doing it,” he says.
He says he was told that because the work involved improvement of an existing building and not a completely new structure, he didn’t need a permit. Now, he says the Province has advised him the investigation could take a year or more to complete, during which time anyone who tries to carry on the restoration work could be fined. All the main work has already been completed, St. Onge says, but the group does have some custom made beds they’d like to install.
“It seems like there’s no common sense for them to go up, take a look at how well it’s built, give us a handshake and say, this is for everyone to enjoy,” St. Onge says. “I’m hoping it happens quickly so we can resolve it and move it ahead. Having it tied up in bureaucratic BS is pretty frustrating.”
iNFOnews.ca asked the Ministry of Forests why the investigation was launched, what specific concerns exist with the cabin, and if it’s possible the Province could order the cabin “burned down” as was stated by a Sicamous councillor in the Eagle Valley News, but we did not receive answers to those questions.
A petition to preserve the lookout had garnered more than 4,600 signatures as of Oct. 6.
Check out pictures of other fire lookouts in B.C. here.
— This story was updated at 2 p.m. Oct. 6, 2017 to add a link to the petition.
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