Destruction of Cabins….Information Sheet #2

Bowron Lake Provincial Park…….Information Sheet #2
Destruction of Cabins…..Update, May 6, 2014

On February 13, 2014 I produced a Bowron Lake Information Sheet entitled simply Destruction of Cabins. This three page document (I call it Information Sheet #1) outlined my experience at Pat’s Point on the Bowron Chain during Thanksgiving weekend, 2013. If you would like to read this full document you can find it at http://www.celebratethebowron.com

I became concerned when it became evident that the Ranger cabin at Pat’s Point had been destroyed and cut into firewood and had been replaced with a spanking new, gorgeous, fir, post and beam, fixed roof, duplex building with provisions for running water and a greywater sewage system. This experience raised a RED FLAG for me regarding management decisions that could have a significant impact on the future direction of Bowron Lake Provincial Park. As I stated in Information Sheet #1, “….there is a current program of destruction of cabins and shelters in the Park that appears misguided, implies a misuse of taxpayer funds and which is definitely occurring without consultation.”.

Since producing the first Information Sheet, I have learned some more interesting facts. This information has come from the minutes of a March 19, 2014 meeting that occurred between the BC Parks (Bowron Lake Park) managers and the executive of BLES (Bowron Lake Enhancement Society), the first meeting between the Park managers and members of the general public since the Park Use Plan was developed in 2002. In addition I have been speaking with others who have first hand knowledge of Park history. I want to share this information which will provide some corrections to some of the statements I made in Information Sheet #1 as well as some clarification and updates regarding future plans for the Park. It appears that this will be an ongoing discussion.

In Information Sheet #1 I posed a number of questions for Park managers. I will repeat and comment on these same (boldfaced) questions below.

What are the intentions of Park managers with regards to greater consumer involvement in the planning for and development of Bowron Lake Provincial Park?

The fact that the meeting between Park managers and the BLES executive took place on March 17, 2014 provides an answer to this questions. This meeting was a welcome and positive development and hopefully will be the first in an ongoing series of such meetings.

It was learned at this meeting that there has been a shifting of responsibilities among the BC Parks staff members working out of the Williams Lake office. In addition there are staff vacancies to be filled.

The responsibilities of the Ministry of Environment fall into five Divisions:
Environmental Protection Division
Environmental Sustainability and Strategic Policy Division
Parks and Protected Areas (BC Parks)
Climate Action Secretariat
Conservation Officer Service

These services are offered throughout the province through Regional offices. In reality some smaller Regional offices (i.e. Cariboo Region/Williams Lake) are accountable to a larger Regional office (Thompson Region/Kamloops) and in fact are referred to as Sections. The individual with overall responsibility for BC Parks (and therefore Bowron Lake Provincial Park) in the Cariboo Region is referred to as the Section Head. Dave Zevick, the Section Head at the time of the March 19th meeting has accepted a transfer to a position in another office and was to be leaving Williams Lake very soon, his replacement has not yet been assigned. Helen Rimmer, who has been the Supervisor with primary responsibility for Bowron Lake Provincial Park for the past 10 years has assumed different responsibilities within the Williams Lake office and her role at Bowron Lake has been assumed by Heather Gorrell, the former Cariboo South Supervisor. Heather is now the “go to” person regarding Bowron Lake issues, she has indicated that she would like to have regular/ongoing meetings with Bowron Lake stakeholders.

If necessary, will….documenting the provenance of the Park’s significant structures and places become an ongoing priority?

There is no indication that BC Parks has made any attempt to document in writing, the provenance of any of the cabins and other structures that currently exist or that existed in the past around the Bowron Chain. All may not be lost however, apparently “photo documentation” of the destroyed Pat’s Point cabin has been completed and I have also heard a suggestion that old BC Parks files may not have been destroyed and if this is the case, it may be possible to glean some information from these, however this will require the efforts of a committed researcher as well as the co-operation of BC Parks. I will pursue this matter.

It does not appear that a Statement of Significance has been completed for the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin. I have tried to gather some information regarding this structure that may prove useful when developing a Statement of Significance for this (now destroyed) building. I did confirm that the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin was in fact one of the newest log buildings on the Chain (at the March 19th meeting it was stated that this cabin was constructed in 1980). It was built by the late Frank Cushman and his son Tim. They felled the trees on site and used horse power to skid and raise the logs for the building. This was one of two Ranger cabins that Frank Cushman built in the Park. The Frank Cushman family have deep roots in the Park. At one time Frank and his wife Ruth owned and operated what is now known as Becker’s Resort. Frank established Wolverine Mountain Outfitters based at Kruger Lake which is right on the Park Boundary. Frank’s guiding area was huge and at one time it actually included much of what was to become the Park. At least one of the existing shelter cabins (located on Indianpoint Lake) was built by Frank and was used as part of his guiding and trapping area. What remains of this guiding area still essentially surrounds the Park.

To set this cabin into a context, it is helpful to know just what was happening in the Park at the time it was constructed. The Bowron became a Park in 1961. While it took Park officials a while to develop a plan, over the next ten years the basic plan for the Park as we know it today unfolded. This plan included establishing wilderness campsites with basic amenities, four cooking shelters, portage trails, a main registration/staging area and the construction of four Ranger cabins. Until the 1990’s there were no contracted staff providing management/maintenance services in the Park, all of the “workers” were BC Parks employees, either full time or summer/part time. There was also a vibrant program for employing youth in the Park. There was a need for accommodation around the Chain for the Park Wardens, hence the construction of the four Warden cabins throughout the 70’s. Prior to their construction, some of the existing shelter (emergency) cabins were used as Warden cabins.

It is important to note that this early planning was true to the philosophy that underlaid the creation of Bowron Lake Provincial Park, that it would offer a wilderness paddling experience for the intermediate level paddler. In fact, BC Parks actually destroyed (or let mother nature destroy) many of the “modern” amenities that existed around the Chain in 1961 such as the wooden tramway that ran between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes and between Skoi and Babcock Lake, to safeguard the notion of a wilderness paddling experience. Similarly the canal that had been dynamited between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes was allowed to sluff in so that it would not be usable. Many cabins that existed around the Chain were destroyed including George Gilbert’s cabin at Silvertip Point on lower Isaac Lake. The enclave of “shake shelters” that existed on Unna and Rum Lakes disappeared.

Today there are seven shelter (emergency) cabins in existence around the Chain. These all had “prior lives” dating back to pre-1961, when Bowron Lake Provincial Park was created. When Thomas McCabe made his map of the Chain in 1925, he documented the existence of at least 17 habitable/emergency shelter cabins around the Chain (excluding those located on Bowron Lake) and McCabe’s numbers do not include those cabins that were constructed by Wells residents and the Wells Rod and Reel Club during the 1930’s – 50’s.

Are there plans to demolish the Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabin in 2014? Are other cabins or structures scheduled for destruction in the next few years?

The Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabin will not be destroyed in 2014 but the Ranger cabin located at Babcock Creek will be destroyed as soon as weather conditions permit, most likely in May of 2014. As soon as this cabin is demolished, another post and beam duplex, fixed-roof structure identical to the one that was erected at Pat’s Point will be erected on the same footprint as the existing Babcock Creek Ranger cabin. The goal is that it will be ready for occupancy by July of 2014.

The Babcock Creek site is somewhat unique in that there isn’t really another suitable site available to construct a new Ranger cabin due to the fact that the existing site allows for fairly easy access to Babcock Lake via a wooden boardwalk (that is not available or easily accessible to the paddling public). This means that Wardens are able to dock their motor boats on Babcock Lake with easy walking access to their cabin where a second boat is available that allows them to travel all the way to McLeary Lake.

There is another reason however why the policy has been to build the four replacement cook shelters as well as the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin (and now the Babcock Creek cabin) on the identical footprint of the original (now demolished) structures. If a new building site was utilized, Parks would be required to undertake an archaeological assessment of the proposed site for the new structure, to ensure that this site was not of special significance for First Nations governments. Parks states that they are committed to honouring the policy of an archaeological assessment for new construction, but not if they are building a new structure on an old site, even though it is highly unlikely that any archaeological assessment was ever done on the site in question when the original structure was constructed.

There is a significant dearth of any archaeological/primary evidence regarding First Nations habitation in the area of Bowron Lake and around the Chain. Much (most?) of the evidence that does exist is at best anecdotal. It would seem that BC Parks is essentially using a “loophole” to avoid the archaeological assessment process even though they are officially supportive of the practice. Why this glaring inconsistency? Could this have anything to do with pending land claims negotiations/settlements between First Nations and various levels of government?

Park management shared the details of what is essentially their Seven Year Plan for Bowron Lake Provincial Park. I’m not sure just when “year #1” began but developments to date have included upgrades to the registration building site to ensure proper drainage etc., improvements in the front country campground, provision of metal bear caches at the campsites, the construction of 4 replacement cook shelters and construction of the new Pat’s Point Ranger cabin. Developments to come over the next three or four years include the new Ranger cabin at Babcock Creek, widening (and reopening) of the hiking trail to Cariboo Falls to a minimum width of 30+ feet for safety reasons, replacement of the Ranger cabins at Wolverine Bay and Indianpoint Lake with structures identical to the new Pat’s Point Ranger cabin structure (with some prior remediation/water drainage work required at the Indianpoint Lake site), installation of greywater systems in each of the new Ranger cabins and some upgrades to the portage trails.

What is the rationale for the replacement of the four Ranger cabins? Officially they are being replaced for health reasons, because they have apparently become overrun by mice and bats. Some of the structures are also on unstable foundations and there are “water issues” at Indianpoint Lake. The fact is, these cabins have always seen minimal use, but certainly since the introduction of the PFO/contracted maintenance system they have seen even less use. It is also quite possible that with the high turnover of transient contract employees, there has been virtually no incentive to care for and maintain these buildings to any reasonable standard. In short they have become very run down, dirty and have not seen any kind of preventive maintenance. It is no wonder that the mice and bats have moved in.

All log structures require preventive maintenance (and this is also true of the new post and beam timber frame structures that are being built on the Chain, I hope that the contract to build these new structures also comes with a provision for ongoing preventive maintenance). It is tragic that the existing Ranger cabins have been allowed to deteriorate. However, if ever there was an area of B.C. that possessed the knowledge of how to stabilize and rehabilitate log buildings it is the Quesnel/Cottonwood House/Barkerville/Quesnel Forks/Bowron Lake region which is home to innumerable heritage log structures. There is no question that with the knowledge that is available in this area, the existing log Ranger cabins could be rehabilitated and the presenting health risks could neutralized .

Throughout these Information Sheets, I have referred to the new post and beam buildings as “fixed roof” structures. The term “fixed roof” is a BC Parks term and it is used in BC Parks literature in connection with a BC Parks plan to see rental accommodation developed , either by private developers or by BC Parks themselves within certain BC parks. I’m not quite sure just what “fixed roof” means, perhaps it is used to distinguish these buildings from tents. It was shared by Park managers that the notion of developing rental accommodation in Bowron Lake Park was part of the reason that this type of duplex building was chosen for construction. While the implementation of such a “service” would require some time to develop, this line of reasoning confirms my worst fears regarding the future degradation of the wilderness paddling experience for the intermediate level paddler in Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

Apparently the promotion of “fixed roof” rental accommodation in BC parks is seen as a way of generating revenue to offset the cost of the contracted Park Facilities Operator. The more money that the PFO can generate from revenues like user fees, canoe rentals, souvenir and firewood sales and from the rental of “fixed roof” accommodation, the less the amount of money that will have to come from public coffers.

What steps are Park managers taking to ensure that no more cabins will be destroyed and that if replaced, the existing Ranger cabins will become much needed shelter cabins?

The destruction of the existing Babcock Creek cabin is essentially a done deal. Apparently the replacement post and beam structure has already been constructed and is waiting to be helicoptered into the Park for assembly. But Park managers and the contractor building the replacement Ranger cabin are reportedly not against the idea of the existing cabin being dismantled (as opposed to being cut up for firewood) and being reassembled on another site for use as a shelter(emergency) cabin as long as the disassembly of the existing structure is done expeditiously. This is welcome news but it also raises some hurdles.

Because the Babcock Creek site is so small, if the existing cabin is to see a new life, it must be dismantled and moved, there is simply not enough room to store the materials from the old cabin on site. The option is most likely to cut up and burn the old Ranger cabin. There is a real time crunch and quite frankly for the contractor who is erecting the new structure, time is money. Because the new structure is ready to go, the old structure must be removed (in one way or another) as soon as weather permits.

In order to “save” the old cabin, a group of hardy workers would have to descend on Babcock Creek to dismantle the existing building, labelling the logs for reassembly, the logs would have to be moved from the site and stored under cover. It would seem that these workers would have to be volunteers as at this point there is no money to pay such a crew. This would require a significant amount of organization and co-ordination and as stated, there is a time crunch. Once the logs were moved, it would be necessary to wait while an archaeological assessment was completed on the proposed new site for reassembly of the cabin, again more money. If all was a go, resources (manpower, equipment and money) for reassembly of the cabin would then have to be found and mobilized.

It looks like there is a very slim chance that the existing Babcock Creek cabin can be saved. But there is still the opportunity to develop a plan for the Wolverine Bay and the Indianpoint Lake cabins. Most importantly, it would appear that Park managers do appreciate the fact that there is indeed a need for more shelter (emergency) cabins around the Chain. Perhaps it will be possible to build the new (replacement) Wolverine Bay and Indianpoint Lake Ranger cabins on new footprints, leaving the existing cabins intact so that they can be converted into much needed shelter (emergency) cabins without having to be dismantled and moved.

How much did it cost at Bowron Lake Park to build a fir post and beam fixed roof duplex off site and then to assemble it in the middle of a wilderness park with all materials, tools, supplies and workers being helicoptered in and out?

To my knowledge, the construction costs associated with the four new cook shelters and the Pat’s Point Ranger cabin have not been publicly revealed. They are significant, high quality structures. The fact that they were built off site and reassembled in a wilderness area using expensive helicopter transport for all materials, equipment, personnel both in and out of the Park suggests a significant amount of money for transportation alone. The existing structures had to be demolished and all of the expensive building materials that could not be burned and that had themselves probably been transported by helicopter into the Park in the first place had to be destroyed and/or transported (by helicopter) to a landfill site. Not only does this have dollar signs stamped all over it but it is also such a tragic waste and loss of valuable and scarce buildings within the Park and even if they had to be dismantled, it is a loss of valuable building materials.

It would be appropriate to simply ask the Park managers how much these structures cost. Did the negotiated contracts include ongoing preventative maintenance of the structures? Log and timber structures settle, they “shrink” and the wood becomes checked and sometimes the structures shift. It is important to keep log and timber frame structures clean and to wash the woodwork annually, to treat them with a mould inhibitor and to protect them from damaging ultraviolet rays and water damage.

If information regarding the cost of construction is not forthcoming, it may be appropriate to request these figures by submitting a request under the terms of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and the Protection of Privacy Act.

Jeffrey Dinsdale
May 6, 2014

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