New life for historic Cornwall fire lookout

An article in The Journal last year helped bring attention to the threat of demolition the tower was facing.

The historic fire lookout tower at the top of Cornwall Mountain near Ashcroft has been saved from demolition

The historic fire lookout tower at the top of Cornwall Mountain near Ashcroft has been saved from demolition

An article that appeared in The Journal last year has helped to preserve the historic fire lookout station on Cornwall Mountain near Ashcroft.

The article (“Cornwall lookout under threat”, July 30, 2015) noted that “BC Parks has announced plans to dismantle the historic fire lookout at the top of Cornwall Mountain. The dismantling is slated to take place in the fall [of 2015], unless an organization or group of volunteers interested in maintaining the structure and holding liability for it steps forward.”

Wes Kibble, regional director of the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC, says that his group found out about the BC Parks decision through The Journal’s article. “A member in the area posted it to our Facebook page,” he says. The group got in touch with BC Parks almost immediately, and signed the paperwork to take over management of the tower a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m a bit of a history buff,” says Kibble. “To me it’s just a bit of history we can’t let go of. It’s something we’re really excited about. Everyone is pumped.”

Historical records show that there has been a fire lookout station on the top of Cornwall since the 1890s, although the current building only dates to the late 1950s. It 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.

“It’s in really good shape,” says Kibble of the tower. “There are a few rotten boards, but it’s not falling apart. There’s no graffiti and no damaged windows. People who go there respect it.”

Kibble explains that the lengthy negotiation process was in part because BC Parks was a little cautious about a partnership with the Four Wheel Drive Association. “Four wheel drives and parks don’t usually coincide.” However, the association maintains two other fire lookout sites—near Boston Bar and Kaslo—which apparently reassured BC Parks.

“There are three main trails in and out of the park [Cornwall Hills Provincial Park],” says Kibble. “We want to keep them open, and BC Parks is okay, as long as people stay on the trails. We want to keep it natural.”

He notes that a lot of people—hikers, four wheel drive and quad enthusiasts, geocachers—head up to the lookout each year, yet there has been surprisingly little damage to the surrounding grasslands.. “Lots of people enjoy [the lookout], and we want to keep that.”

Kibble notes that 4×4 tourism is a large draw, and visiting fire lookout towers is very popular. “People can hit several locations in a row. They like exploring and travelling.” A Facebook page called BC Forest Fire Lookouts features photographs and information about various lookouts around the province.

One of the people Kibble met with during the negotiations was John Nymeyer, the last full-time employee at the Cornwall lookout. “It was really neat to go up there with John, who knows about the area and the lookout. It’s really neat seeing people who have worked in the industry, and hear about the history and their stories. It’s stuff we would never have known.”

The group had hoped to begin some work at the lookout this fall, but that has been put off until next year, when work parties will replace some boards at the tower, clean it out, and do sanding and painting. The outhouse at the site also needs to be relocated. Kibble says that local help would be welcome.

“I invite anyone who wants to come out and help. It’s not just an association event; it’s more a community event. Local people know and love the lookout, and we hope to see the community taking ownership of it.

“There’s no graffiti there, no damage to the windows. The people who go there respect it and have already taken ownership of it. People take pride in the area, and we’re excited about it.”