Year to Remember: Community rallied to rebuild Glacier chalet

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  • Crews used more than 100 beams to stabilize Sperry Chalet for winter. The National Park Service plans to reassess the structure in the spring.

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    An aerial view shows the stabilization work at Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. The historic structure was gutted in the Sprague Fire this summer. (National Park Service photos)

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  • Crews used more than 100 beams to stabilize Sperry Chalet for winter. The National Park Service plans to reassess the structure in the spring.

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    An aerial view shows the stabilization work at Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. The historic structure was gutted in the Sprague Fire this summer. (National Park Service photos)

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Sperry Chalet’s 104th season got cut short on Aug. 31, when the Sprague Fire gutted the historic backcountry lodge in Glacier National Park.

Chalet coordinator Kevin Warrington took the loss especially hard. Sperry had been in his family since 1954, when his grandparents, Ross and Kay Luding, took over its operation.

“It’s a lot like losing a loved one,” he told the Daily Inter Lake. “A piece of ourselves is missing right now.”

But that piece may not be missing forever. In the four months since the fire, Sperry fans from near and far have sent him support and encouragement – and taken the first steps toward rebuilding.

Doug Mitchell, executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, has been leading that effort. “The chalet burned, we were in the Superintendent’s office by the next day, by 10 a.m.,” he remembered.

The Chalet’s 18-inch-thick rock walls were found in stable condition. To prepare them for winter, the Conservancy put out an initial request for $90,000.

“Within two weeks ... we had fully funded that initial request for structural stabilization.”

By now, he said, the group has recorded 878 donations, from all 50 states and many countries, worth over $180,000. Even with past experience in philanthropy, Mitchell was impressed.

“This is really something very unique, to have this kind of reach so quickly,” he said. “The response was just remarkable.”

Those funds would prove vital for the task ahead: building a wooden framework to mimic the support once given by internal walls and roofing. Plans made by Kalispell’s DCI+BCE Engineers called for 124 6-by-6-inch beams, 24 sheets of plywood, and, foreman John Lucke estimated, “about 30 cases of screws” weighing 50 pounds each.

“That’s a lot of material to put up even in the frontcountry with machinery,” said Lucke, Glacier National Park’s facility manager. But with Sperry 6.7 miles up a trail, heavy equipment was out of the question. Just delivering the 10-person team and building materials required 15 helicopter flights.

The workers had cordless drills and chainsaws, he said. “Beyond that, everything was by hand ... we’d have the whole crew of 10 to get the beam up 20 feet.” Adding to the challenge, about 12 inches of snow fell during construction.

But Lucke echoed Mitchell as he reflected on how well the 12-day project had gone. “It’s about the smoothest job I’ve ever really been on,” said the longtime Glacier employee.

“We would basically work our day, and then in our evenings we would help work out our plans for the next day.”

“The crew was phenomenal,” he added.

Their work is now bracing the walls against winter’s winds and snow.

Glacier Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said the National Park Service plans to re-assess the structure in the spring, then plan the next steps.

Whatever those are, “we’re gonna be ready because of the generosity of the people who responded immediately,” Mitchell predicted. Concern for the lodge, he continued, hadn’t died down. “Not a day goes by that I don’t have numerous interactions with people around the country about Sperry Chalet.”

It remains to be seen how long rebuilding could take. But the teamwork and support Warrington saw this fall doesn’t suggest a final end to Sperry’s story.

“I think the park really stepped up,” he said. “They seemed to do their best work when they’re facing the unusual, and that was the case this year.”

Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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