Glacier takes questions on Sperry rebuild

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The Sperry Chalet on its cliff perch in Glacier National Park in this file photo.

The push to rebuild Sperry Chalet continued Monday with a meeting on the project’s draft environmental assessment at Flathead Valley Community College.

As the Daily Inter Lake reported last week, this document sets forth three options for the burned-out chalet’s future, with Glacier National Park’s “preferred alternative” being to restore the chalet within its original stone walls, while updating the interior to meet current building codes and to accommodate disabled guests. The assessment calls for completing the work in two phases, one this summer and one in 2019.

During Monday’s talk, park staff discussed their work to meet this schedule.

“This whole thing is being expedited,” said Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow. The park had previously aimed to finalize the environmental assessment by September, but now plans to do so in May.

Other to-be-completed elements of the planning process include obtaining a biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service, securing a contractor and finding funding.

Mow said that the Park Service expects the project to cost between $8 and $12 million, but more specific projections are not yet available. According to Glacier spokesperson Lauren Alley, the lodge was insured for $1.2 million. The rest, Mow said, will be covered by a blend of government and private funds.

“The Secretary [of the Interior] has said that this should be a public-private partnership, so he’s anticipating that philanthropy will definitely play a role in that, but there will also have to be some funding from government sources.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke discussed the rebuilding with Mow and Glacier National Park Conservancy Executive Director Doug Mitchell during his March visit to Columbia Falls, and the superintendent reiterated Zinke’s support.

“This is being managed very much by the Washington office, and needless to say the Secretary is very interested in this. I think his goal is to get Sperry up and running in as short a time as possible.”

But Mow also acknowledged that “we’re pushed up against some pretty significant feasibility issues, whether it’s acquisition of materials or whatever. It’s all got to be part of the mix.”

Even when the financial and regulatory hurdles are cleared, rebuilding the chalet will be no easy task, especially after this winter’s blizzards. Flyovers of the chalet site have shown snow reaching up to the second story. Alley said that in September, crews counted 300 trees down across the 6.5-mile trail leading to Sperry, and that winter has likely brought down many more.

All of this will have to be cleared before site assessment can begin. As temperatures warm, “we will be chasing the snow up, clearing the trail,” Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith told reporters after the presentation, adding that the Flathead National Forest hotshot crew may help remove the debris.

Other technical issues raised by guests included protections for grizzly bears, the chalet’s water source and noise from helicopter flights, several hundred of which will be needed to ferry workers and materials to the site during the first phase. Smith said he expects flights to be confined to a few periods of heavy activity.

Alley said that construction drawings are expected the week of May 7. A completion date for the biological opinion has not been set.

The assessment is open for public comment until May 7. To view the document and submit comments, visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/SperryChalet2018. It may also be requested by calling 406-888-7898, and comments may be mailed to Superintendent, Glacier National Park, Attn: Sperry Chalet, P.O. Box 128, West Glacier, Montana 59936.

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

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