It took 103 years for Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet to succumb to the elements. It’s going to take just over two years to restore its glory – weather permitting.
Officials from Glacier National Park and its partners are already hard at work solving the Sperry problem. They have developed four preliminary concepts for the future look of the chalet to be completed in 2020.
Preliminary Concept No. 1: Close to as it was
Utilize the existing walls and restore the chalet to reflect its period of significance (1914-1949). Make some updates to bring the building to code for modern safety requirements. Restore the visitor experience to similar quality of what it has been for years.
Preliminary Concept No. 2: In place, but modernized
Utilize as much of the historic fabric as possible, but make improvements for modern comfort and safety. This would include updates to bring the building to code, installing insulation between the interior walls and some additional engineering and design work.
Preliminary Concept No. 3: A new look
Build an entirely new chalet in a slightly different location to avoid avalanche activity that has plagued the site for years. The new building would complement the historic landscape and the remaining walls of the old chalet would be stabilized and used for visitor interpretation.
Preliminary Concept 4: A new approach altogether
Stabilize the remaining walls of the chalet for visitor interpretation, but forgo building a new dormitory. Instead, create a canvas-walled tent or yurt village for guests that will be taken down at the end of each season. This concept harkens back to the early days of Sperry Chalet when ten cabins were used on the site. This option would still utilize the intact historic dining hall.
The National Park Service has come up with approximately $350,000 to cover the schematic design process for Sperry Chalet, park superintendent Jeff Mow said. Anderson Hallas Architects, the same Denver-based firm hired to restore the Many Glacier Hotel, was awarded the contract to complete the Sperry Chalet design. Concept designs and cost estimates are expected to be completed in June.
So far, there hasn’t been a federal appropriation to rebuild the chalet. However, Mow said it is in the works and Montana’s senators and representative are working to secure funds. Mow hopes to have construction funds locked down and to begin building in 2019.
“Thinking about its history, that has an important role as we look at and think about what’s next for Sperry,” Mow said. “What we want to find out as we move forward is what you don’t want to get lost, what needs to be retained. We’re talking about the Sperry visitor experience.”
But most of all, Mow said park officials are looking to the community to determine what made Sperry special and how to return that spirit to the area.
The public scoping period will remain open until April 2 to take comment on what people want to experience at the new Sperry Chalet. At least two public meetings will be held before the period closes. The days and times of those meetings are still being determined.
To submit a comment, visit parkplanning.nps.gov/sperrychalet2018.
Sperry Chalet has a long and storied past in Glacier National Park. People have traveled across the park for years to partake in the experiences the chalet has to offer.
Just before 1900, when Sperry Glacier was first discovered, it was approximately 800 acres – roughly eight times the size it is today, Glacier National Park museum curator Deirdre Shaw said.
Shaw quoted an article from The Missoulian archives following the glacier’s discovery that said: “It is very evident that Flathead County has within its borders a section containing some of the grandest scenery to be found in the country…when it’s beauty and its grandeur become known, it will be visited by hundreds of tourists.”
Sperry Chalet was just one building in Louis Hill’s network of accommodations within the newly formed Glacier National Park.
“Sperry fits perfectly into this scenario,” Shaw said. “Sperry Glacier was one of the premier attractions since the 1890s that people want to come and see. So, placing the chalet where he does controls access to that glacier. Everybody that wants to see that glacier is going to have to come right by the chalet.”
Before the chalet was constructed, a tent camp complex was established just north of the current site in Glacier Basin. In 1912, railway officials began work on the Sperry dining hall. In 1913, they began construction on the famous dormitory. By 1914, the Sperry Chalet complex was fully operational despite a spring avalanche that delayed its opening.
Since then, the chalet became a hub for people venturing up to see Sperry Glacier. But, moreover, it was a place where travelers could join into a special family of shared experiences.
“I’ve seen lifelong friendships start in the Sperry dining room,” Renee Noffke, manager of Sperry Chalet, said. “People just have this awakening sort of experience up there that’s hard to replicate in the rest of the world.”
Noffke worked at Sperry Chalet for 10 summers before the Sprague Fire burned through the area on Aug. 31, 2017.
Most of the Sperry Complex survived the fire, however, the historic dormitory was lost. The dining hall sustained minimal damage to its roof and decking. Emergency stabilization efforts were launched in October 2017 to reinforce the four remaining dormitory walls and two chimneys through the winter.
In early February, the Glacier Conservancy hired a plane and photographer to flyover the Sperry complex site to see how the building was faring through the heavy snows of winter. The walls and chimneys appear to be completely intact. When the snow clears, further tests will be done to determine if the original stone walls are still viable.
“I’m just so thrilled that the park is committed to a future guest experience up at Sperry Chalet again and I think the most important things is that people, future generations, spend the night up there and experience that beautiful place,” Noffke said. “Personally, I don’t really care what it looks like as long as people can continue going up there and having that beautiful experience.”
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