There is no denying the passion Kalispell’s Bret Bouda has for Glacier National Park’s historic Sperry Chalet.
The Czechoslovakian native is an acclaimed nature photographer who has spent the last several years traipsing across the American West exploring and photographing national parks. He left his homeland in 1981, settling in Germany for several years before coming to the U.S. in 1995.
But for all the places he’s been, Glacier is his favorite, and Sperry Chalet holds a special place in his heart. Bouda was there shortly before it burned Aug. 31, 2017 in the Sprague Fire. Only the walls were left standing of the iconic structure that was loved by so many.
The National Park Service has approved a plan to rebuild the Chalet and work is expected to begin in July.
Bouda photographed the chalet area while he was there and those photographs, some of the last likely taken before the devastating blaze, became the inspiration for his latest book, “Sperry Chalet 1914-2017.”
It will be released Saturday, June 23, at the reopening of the Mission Mountain Mercantile near Condon on Montana 83. Bouda will be signing copies of his latest book there, beginning at 11 a.m.
Bouda has published several books about Glacier, including “The Era of the Chalets” and “Jammin’-to-the-Sun.”
Bouda’s warm feelings about the chalet were different before he realized what it truly meant to him and so many others.
“I moved here in 2004 and I didn’t get to the chalet until 2007. I was indifferent to it. It was on the back burner for me,” Bouda told the Daily Inter Lake in a recent interview.
But once Bouda made the trek to Sperry and the surrounding Comeau Pass area, the love affair began.
“It was a very personal loss for myself,” Bouda said. “It’s in a strategic place. It gives me the chance to spend two nights there so I can explore the Sperry Glacier, Comeau Pass, the area that to me, is a very magical place. You can see more there in a 2-mile stretch than nearly anywhere in the park.
“I did this book because I wanted people who may not understand what the chalet means. For me and many others, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. It had to be rebuilt.
“For more than 100 years, it offered hospitality, food and shelter to weary horseback riders and hikers, many of whom had never spent a night in a backcountry setting nor seen a glacier.
“A special camaraderie developed there as people connected with each other over their experiences and the magic of Glacier Park. The Sperry experience was a reminder of a simpler time and provided a welcomed respite from the stresses of our frantic-paced modern society,” Bouda said.
Bouda, like many others, was happy the learn the chalet rebuilding project was moving forward.
“Glacier Park is known all over the world. I knew about it and many of the national parks in the U.S. before I came here,” Bouda said. “I’ve received emails from people all over the world telling me I helped bring their childhood back after they’ve seen my photos from the Sperry area.”
When Bouda was there in July 2017, he was hiking with longtime friend Terry Abell, a Whitefish resident. Abell worked at Sperry Chalet in 1970 as a cook and he is still involved in the opening and closing of the chalet. He has hiked the park for nearly 50 years and photographed it extensively for many years.
“When we were there last summer, Terry remarked how impressive the bear grass was there. He said he had never seen it quite like that before,” Bouda said. “So, I took a few shots.”
One of them ended up being the cover for Bouda’s new book.
Bouda and Abell met at one of Bouda’s book signings eight years ago.
“We had the same appreciation for nature and he knows the park like no one else. He is like a father to me,” Bouda said.
Bouda also credited Abell for helping fund the publishing of the “Sperry Chalet” book.
“Without Terry, the book wouldn’t have existed. He is a great friend and his financial support was critical,” Bouda said.
Bouda’s work, in framed, large-scale photographs on canvas, has graced the Summit Medical Fitness Center, Kalispell’s City Hall, Northwest Healthcare and Bass Breast Center, Glacier International Airport (Centennial Exhibit), the Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell and the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell, as well as the homes and offices of many private collectors of his work.
“Sperry Chalet 1914-2017” will also be available locally in Kalispell and Whitefish.
Bouda can be reached at email@example.com or see his website at www.digitalbroadway.net.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at (406) 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.