Unique spiral staircase to return to Many Glacier Hotel

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It’s been more than half a century since a distinctive helical staircase was removed from Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, but local organizations’ work to secure a National Park Service grant will soon begin the process of bringing the stairway back this fall.

As part of the Park Service centennial year, officials awarded more than 100 grants last week, including one that will cover half of the estimated $243,300 cost of replacing the spiral stairway.

The other half is being matched by a donation from the Dorcy Estate, with the Glacier National Park Conservancy coordinating the grant application process.

The Swiss chalet-style lodge in the park’s northeast corner is a major destination in its own right: It’s a National Historic Landmark that logs more than 35,000 guests and an estimated 270,000 visitors each year.

Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said the staircase work will complement extensive ongoing renovation work that aims to bring the building more in line with its original state.

Before it was removed in the 1950s, the prominent spiral stairway led guests and visitors from the hotel’s expansive main lobby to the lower level veranda overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake.

“It was one of those really character-defining features to the hotel,” said Mark Preiss, who heads up the conservancy. “That was James J. Hill’s original vision for it, and he really wanted the guests to have that awe-inspiring experience when you walk into that giant public lobby, and it was one of the elements that really distinguished that lobby and that lodge.”

Separate rehabilitation work at Many Glacier Hotel began in 2001 and has included structural and safety improvements as well as overhauls of the dining room and north annex. Glacier Park also has been working on safety improvements for the south half of the building.

The conservancy is also working on a separate project to replace light fixtures with ones that more closely resemble the original paper lanterns that hung throughout the four-story lobby.

A total of $10 million was awarded to parks throughout the country as part of the centennial program, and according to the National Park Service, those funds were matched by a total of $15.9 million from more than 90 partner organizations.

Glacier won a second grant worth $18,000, which is being matched by the Glacier National Park Conservancy’s contribution of $20,000, to rehabilitate the first mile of the popular Highline Trail.

Once the high-elevation weather permits it, the park will team up with other organizations to recruit young adults to work on a trail crew, rehabilitating the path and replacing aging handrails and bolts where the trail cuts across steep, rocky cliffs.

Beyond upgrading the popular route, Preiss said it will also pass on knowledge and experience in the park to a new generation.

“Part of the priority for the park is to engage the next generation of park stewards,” said Preiss. “This allowed us to add that young crew to grain hands-on experience with the park and the Montana Conservation Corps this summer.”

Germann also noted the safety and accessibility benefits the project will provide for one of the park’s most-traversed hiking trails. She said she is thankful to the park’s partners for maintaining the appeal that makes Glacier a top destination for visitors around the world.

Reporter Samuel Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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