With summer’s wildfires dying down and historic Sperry Chalet in ruins, longtime employees at Glacier National Park reflected Friday on their experiences at the park and chalet, and thanked donors who have helped fund its recovery.
The workers spoke in Kalispell on the last day of the Glacier National Park Conservancy’s Brown Bag Lunch Speaker Series. The nonprofit has hosted talks around western Montana this week as part of an effort to gain donations during “Give Back to Glacier Week,” when any contributions up to $50,000 will be matched.
“We were very excited to figure out yesterday that we’ve reached our first goal for funding for the stabilization of Sperry [Chalet,]” the organization’s development director, Nikki Eisinger announced to the audience.
“We know that there will be more to come, we know that the national support will be there.”
The first speaker Friday, Wilderness Manager Kyle Johnson, stressed the value of volunteers in an age of rising visitor numbers and flat budgets.
“I have a staff of about 35 volunteers that worked for me this year,” he said. Of that group, “you’re looking at over 5,500 hours of volunteer [labor].”
He said that one of those projects had been stationing a backcountry host at the Fifty Mountain Campground, located in prime grizzly country. Thanks to the host’s work with visitors, “we had no problems with grizzly bears this year.”
But over the years, many hikers have preferred to spend the night indoors — a focus of the next two speakers, Sperry and Granite Park Chalet concessionaire Kevin Warrington, and his business partner, Kathie Phillips Aasheim.
Both reminisced about Warrington’s grandmother, Kay Luding, who came to Glacier with her husband Ross to take over management of the buildings in 1954.
“She was the perfect fit for Sperry,” Warrington remembered. “She fit there. She knew how to make bread, she knew how to sweep the floors, and do all the little things that people just need done, whether you knew it or not.”
He went on to describe her after-dinner accordion-playing, “the weirdest thing to see up in the mountains,” and the “Kay Day” celebration held in 1984, her 30th year of service.
Despite these fond memories, there was no escaping the hit the Chalet took on Aug. 31, when the Sprague Fire gutted its hotel building.
“You can recognize some door hinges, you can recognize some door knobs, and various other little pieces,” Warrington said, his voice tightening and his tone dropping. “The rest of it is just obliterated.”
Even so, he assured the audience that the other buildings had escaped serious harm.
“There’s hope for the old girl,” he said. Doug Mitchell, Glacier Conservancy’s executive director, added that a structural review had found the hotel’s 18-inch-thick rock walls in stable condition.
The Chalet’s remains are now being stabilized for the winter. The Sperry Action Fund is funding this work.
One of Friday’s attendees, Bob Lager, had driven up from the Dallas to attend the week of events. The retiree told the Daily Inter Lake that he had stayed at Sperry for 20 years.
While Lager recognized that rebuilding would be a “long process,” he said he was “hopeful” the hotel would rise again.
“One of the greatest experiences an individual could ever have is to spend a night at Sperry.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 758-4407.