'Just so sad' to see new picnic shelter ruined by suspicious fire, says head of Corduroy Brook trail group

·3 min read

A new outdoor picnic shelter near Gibson's Field in Grand Falls-Windsor that was built just over a year ago was destroyed by a fire earlier this week.

It's the latest in a string of suspicious fires being investigated in the area.

"A week ago I was in for a walk and I walked in on Gibson's Field in there and I seen a beautiful shelter that was there … and yesterday morning I walked into charred rubble," said Elmo Hewlett, president of the Corduroy Brook Enhancement Association, on Friday.

"It was just so sad."

The structure offered a sheltered space where the association could host summer camps and crafting activities for children along the trial system. It had a wheelchair ramp and accessible seating sections, to allow everyone a view of the pond.

Corduroy Brook Nature Centre & Trail/Facebook
Corduroy Brook Nature Centre & Trail/Facebook

It was built 14 months ago, after the previous shelter that stood there for 17 years also burned down in 2018 in what RCMP said is also considered a suspicious fire, with a cause still undetermined.

"We thought, 'Oh, bad luck,' whatever, just part of life. And then we rebuilt it, and the gentleman that rebuilt it put his heart and soul into it, it was built better than it ever was before, nicer," Hewlett said.

Hewlett said the new structure hardly got used this year, since summer camps were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's a shame it didn't get more use before it was ruined.

RCMP said the fire, which was reported just before midnight on Wednesday, has been deemed suspicious, and they are asking anyone with information to contact the Grand Falls-Windsor detachment or Crime Stoppers.

They also said in a release they are investigating a string of suspicious fires in the detachment area.

Hewlett said he doesn't know exactly how a fire could have started in the shelter.

"There's no electricity on the building. They're saying, 'Oh, maybe someone was in there and tossed down a cigarette butt,' but I don't know," he said.

"It just runs deep after all the suspicious fire in Grand Falls-Windsor, it just runs deep — the why, why this keeps happening."

Hewlett guesses it cost about $30,000 to build the structure, and at this point he's not sure the association will want to take on yet another rebuilding project if there's a risk of yet another fire.

"I don't want to rebuild. It's not worth our time and energy. We put the association's money into this.… Last year all of our extra money went into that shelter … but it was [supposed to be] our shelter for the next 20-something years, we were hoping," he said.

"To rebuild it now, I don't know, is it worth it? Or will somebody do the same thing to it? The sad thing is if we do run nature camp next summer, now we've got no shelter for the children to go in and make their arts and crafts in, so [I] really don't want to invest the money again."

The association this year spent much of its funding rebuilding boardwalks around the Corduroy Brook Nature Trail system.

Hewlett said the trails need constant work and upgrades, so there's not a lot of money to go around for yet another picnic shelter.

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