The historic Cornwall Fire Lookout atop Cornwall Mountain west of Ashcroft is in need of some tender loving care, and anyone who wants to lend a hand (as well as enjoy the spectacular view) is invited to take part in a work bee at the lookout on Saturday, Aug. 17.
Organizer Wes Kibble—regional director of the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC, which took over management of the Cornwall lookout in 2016—says that the work to be done includes replacing the stairs (which are badly in need of repair), replacing a post supporting the deck and adding two new ones, replacing a crossbeam that supports the walkway, and putting some new boards on the walkway.
The work was scheduled for 2016, but had to be moved to 2017. The Elephant Hill wildfire made that summer a write-off, and conditions in summer 2018 were so dry that BC Parks did not want much work being carried out at the site.
Kibble says that, all things considered, the lookout—which is at least 60 years old—is in really good shape, a state that he attributes in part to area residents.
“Local people in Ashcroft and Cache Creek adopted the lookout as their own, and have shown it respect over the years. There’s no graffiti there, as there is at some sites with easier access. And people who are willing to make the effort to get to the Cornwall lookout respect it that much more.”
It’s because of that local respect that Kibble hopes to get some Ashcroft and Cache Creek residents out to help with the work on Aug. 17. “Four Wheel Drive Club members have said that they’ll provide labour, but I’m hoping to get some helpers from the community as well. We’re giving them an opportunity to help out.”
All the necessary materials are being donated by BC Parks. Anyone who has their own carpentry tools is welcome to bring them, but there will be some tools available. Kibble says they aren’t looking for contractors or professionals: anyone who knows which end of a hammer to hold is welcome to come help out. Anyone with a generator is welcome, and Kibble is hoping to find people with full-size trucks who can help transport the wood from Kamloops to the lookout.
He notes that it will be a full day of work, so people should bring their own lunch and water, although some beverages will be provided. If enough people are interested, a potluck lunch could be organized.
Although there was an outhouse at the site, it was in very bad shape, and was taken down by BC Parks (“They didn’t want someone falling in the pit,” says Kibble). A replacement is in the works yard in Kamloops, and Kibble says that BC Parks plans to install it soon, hopefully before Aug. 17.
Historical records indicate that there has been a fire lookout on Cornwall Mountain since at least the 1890s, when the lookout was maintained on an informal basis. The current lookout tower is a standard cottage-roof cabin on top of a wooden tower. The base of the tower provided living accommodations for the person manning it, while the cabin—surrounded by a catwalk—was used for fire-spotting, with continuous windows on all four sides maximizing the surveillance capacity of a lone observer. It’s one of two predominant fire lookout formats constructed by the BC Forest Services between the 1920s and the late 1950s.
The Cornwall fire lookout was regularly manned each summer until the early 1990s, after which it was only used if there was a fire risk in the area. By 1999 it was the only active forest service lookout tower in the Kamloops fire district, and the last time it was used was during the 2003 wildfire in the Cornwall Hills.
In July 2015 the Journal wrote about plans by BC Parks to dismantle and remove the Cornwall lookout in the fall of that year, unless an organization or group of volunteers interested in maintaining the structure and holding liability for it stepped forward. The announcement followed the dismantling, over the years, of several other lookouts around B.C. which were no longer being used and could not be managed by the Fire Protection Service.
Kibble learned of the plans when a member of the Four Wheel Drive Association posted the Journal article on the association’s Facebok page. The group immediately got in touch with BC Parks and began negotiations to take over management of the site, which happened in summer 2016.
Fire lookout towers are popular not only with 4X4 enthusiasts, but with hikers, geocachers, snowmobilers, and history buffs, among others. Information about lookout locations, as well as lots of pictures of the lookouts and the views from them, can be found on the BC Forest Fire Lookouts Facebook page.
Kibble says that he hears from people who used to go to the Cornwall lookout as kids with their dads, and now take their own children to the site. “Families go up there: grandchildren, children, grandkids.
“I truly feel that the people of Ashcroft and Cache Creek own this site. The Four Wheel Drive Association of BC is just helping out.”
He hopes that this year’s work can be accomplished in one day; if not, there will be a second day of work at the lookout on Sunday, Aug. 18. Anyone interested in taking part can contact Kibble via the Cornwall Fire Lookout Maintenance Day Facebook page, so that he can gauge how many people are coming and their carpentry skill levels, in order to plan out some of the work in advance. Volunteers will meet at the Esso Travel Centre on Highway 1 at Cornwall Road at 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 17 , with departure at 9 a.m.
Latecomers are welcome to make their own way to the lookout to help out. Travel south on Highway 1 from Cornwall Road, then turn west onto Hat Creek Road. The unpaved road is in good condition as of mid-July 2019, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is recommended.