Ed.'s note: In the aftermath of the tragic avalanche accident on January 2 1998, the Silver Spray Cabin was closed to winter use.
Sky High Cabin
As a long time backcountry ranger for BC Parks and a seasonal permittee for the winter operation in Kokanee Glacier Kevin Giles had long been concerned with the lack of efficient facilities and the high cost of delivering service in Kokanee Glacier. After numerous attempts to find support for sponsors to assist with the replacement of the Silver Spray cabin, Kevin came forward with offers of assistance from Hammil Creek Timberwrights, Pacific Timber Frame and Meadow Creek Cedar. Enlisting the support of "Friends of West Kootenay Parks" proved to be the catalyst required to secure BC Parks' blessing for the project.Viewed as a project small enough to be attainable and large enough to be a challenge, "Friends" prepared a brief for the West Kootenay District office outlining the rationale and positive aspects of the cabin project. Boosted by the acceptance of BC Parks and limited pledge of financial support, working committees were formed and fundraising began. Public response was overwhelming. Materials, cash and a multitude of volunteers pledged their support. Hampered by a late snowpack at the building site, the first volunteer work party did not start until July 23rd, 1994. That weekend the old cabin was demolished, the site cleared and the stable was converted to a kitchen and dining area. The next weekend, a crew led by Dan Harlow (Grand Forks area supervisor) laid a new stone foundation placing 20 tons of rock and four tons of premix mortar in two and half days. The new structure would be a two storey timberframe prefabricated at the Cooper Creek workshop. Students from British Columbia, Alberta and Montana paid for the opportunity to learn the art of framing at a one-week timberframe workshop and the chance to fly into Silver Spray to assemble the frame. All the dimension lumber and timbers required for the frame were donated by Meadow Creek Cedar Ltd. They even resurrected one of their old single band resaws in order to mill the timbers required for the frame. With mountains of material to deliver to the Silver Spray parking lot and fly into the building site, park staff from Kokanee glacier volunteered hundreds of hours to deal with logistics and supervise the slinging. Fire season brought excitement of another kind. With a one week window for the crew to prefabricate, transport and erect the frame, the shortage of helicopters kept us guessing right up to the day we actually flew the materials into the cabin site. We needed two helicopters for a weekend to transport a crew of 35 and tons of material. Although tense moments were spent trying to secure the flight time a sudden change to wet weather saved the day. Flying represented our largest single expenditure, and the decision to fly volunteers to the site was a cost we had not considered. The project wasn't far along however when we decided that flying volunteers to the worksite would maximize the amount of work done each weekend. Volunteers would fly in on Friday and hide out Sunday. Canadian Helicopters spared no effort in support of the project by bringing in helicopters from other areas. Spending hours juggling their schedules, donating hours of free flying time and even helped to persuade Labatts Brewery to make a cash donation to the cause. Once the cabin frame erected life became a routine of weekend work parties. There were frantic times before flights however, gathering equipment, tools, buying food, soliciting donations and arranging transportation. John Carter, a former park ranger, spent his weekdays coordinating contract trail crews in the Slocan Chief area and weekends working the crew at the cabin site. Kevin Giles and Dave Heagy, Kokanee Glacier rangers, spent their weeks working for BC Parks and their weekends arranging, flying materials and working at Silver Spray. One individual who pulled everything together at the construction site was Sean McTague, a seasonal ranger who had transferred from Smithers. With a broad range of timberframe and woodworking experience, Sean planned and directed the weekend work parties. Like others, he put in his required work week then volunteered weekends at the cabin. Summer turned to fall and the weekends became a mind-numbing blur of juggling day to day commitments with the requirements of completing the cabin. The last major work party in October coincided with a three-foot snowfall that made the hike out less than a cake walk. On Halloween a benefit dance was held. Kirk Shave and Steve Kent, area supervisors, combined their band with Bill Pritchard (another seasonal ranger) to provide an excellent opportunity to let off steam, generate much needed cash and exposure to cultivate more support. The final work party cleaned the cabin and readied it for the winter ski operation. Fund raising continued until mid-February (1995) when we finished a raffle for an original water color painting donated by Kootenay artist, Les Wiesbrich. In retrospect, it was an excellent undertaking. It was refreshing to see the whole community come together, although somewhat daunting to keep up with the energy and enthusiasm of all the volunteers. "Friends of West Kootenay Parks" proved the viability of the project and showed us it is possible to upgrade our backcountry infrastructure without large outlays of parks funds. The final product is an efficient structure and inexpensive to maintain. Revenue generated by the wunter ski operation has eliminated the requirment for any parks subsidy of the cabin operation. Lessons to be learned from this project.
- Seed funding from BC Parks is a necessity. Not only does it demonstrate a solid commitment from Parks, but as was the case in this project, it meant that there was start up money available as "Friends" waited for pledged money and grants to come in.
- Support from Parks staff, equipment and vehicles help make these projects feasible. There were numerous occasions when assistance in the form of transporting volunteers and limited use of the Parks one ton was essential. In these instances, Parks staff working on their own time were invaluable. Power and hand tools were also made available for the project. Many volunteers supplied their own tools but it would not make sense for the Society to have to purchase tools required on such a short term basis that were readily available from Parks.
- In order to properly approach estimating, proposal briefs and fundraising, the projects should be of a nature that reflect district priorities and have had site plans and engineered drawings prepared wherever possible. In the case of this project delay would have meant the loss of substantial contributions. The end result was the lack of time for proper planning and fundraising ahead of time. In this district we can look ahead to the possibility of projects of a similar nature. If we are prepared, we can do much to ensure timely completion with far less stress for our partners.
- Silver Spray cabin is located in the northeastern 111 corner of Kokanee Glacier Park at 7,800 feet above sea level. The original cabin was built in 1910 to provide shelter for the miners at the Violet Mine.
- 110 volunteers worked over 5,000 hours to complete the project.
- 60 donors provided over $60,000 in cash and materials.
- BC Parks provided $14,900 in support funds.
- On the busiest day of flying, two helicopters made 43 flights moving more than 10 tons of materials, 35 volunteers, and enough ale from the Nelson Brewery to keep everybody in good cheer.
- The timber frame was prefabricated in a four day workshop and erected on site in one and a half days.
- Estimated value of the project: $150,000+.