Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requested $12 million Monday for the reconstruction of Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet, which was destroyed in an ember storm last August.
Announced by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the appropriations request comes after Glacier Park officials issued a decision calling for the backcountry dormitory’s reconstruction inside its original stone walls.
“Glacier’s Sperry Chalet hotel has been a place for visitors to stay for over a century,” Daines said in a written release. “I thank Secretary Zinke for putting Montana’s priorities first and fighting to rebuild this historic building.”
Zinke has supported Sperry’s reconstruction — as have all of Montana’s congressmen — since shortly after the Sprague fire went on a wind-driven run late in the afternoon of Aug. 31, 2017. A veritable storm of embers ignited the chalet from inside, consuming the building despite the best efforts of firefighters pre-positioned to defend the 100-year-old shelter.
Thousands of park visitors — some of whom had previously made the six-mile trek into Sperry, some of whom had never been there — quickly called for the building’s reconstruction.
The fire consumed everything inside the building, but left the chalet’s 2-foot-thick stone masonry walls intact. After emergency bracing as the first snow began to fall in October, the walls also survived the record snowpack of the winter of 2017-18.
Now the National Park Service is moving forward with reconstruction at the same high-altitude site above Lake McDonald. The park envisions a construction schedule that spans two summers, beginning this June.
In the mid-May decision document, the Park Service said the rebuilt chalet’s design will reflect its “period of significance” from 1914 to 1949 — and the visitor experience will be “very similar to what it has been for decades.”
Architects and builders will use “as much of the remaining historic fabric” as possible and will replicate historic finishes where practicable.
Glacier Park has contracted with Anderson Hallas Architects to oversee the project, beginning with bid solicitations for construction contracts. Most recently, Anderson Hallas led the renovation of Many Glacier Hotel.
No cost estimate has yet been released for the work at Sperry, but officials have warned that because there is no road to the site, helicopters must be used to ferry workers, equipment and raw materials. That and the difficult terrain and weather conditions will drive up costs and shorten the construction window, said Superintendent Jeff Mow.
The other major player in Sperry Chalet’s reconstruction is the Glacier National Park Conservancy, which will lead the private fundraising effort needed to supplement federal funds.
For example, it provided the $120,000 needed last October to stabilize the surviving masonry walls before winter’s snows set in — work that could not have been completed on time without private funds.
The conservancy set a tentative 2018 fundraising goal of $500,000 for work that might happen at the site this summer.
Conservancy executive director Doug Mitchell expects 2019 to be the year of the “big ask” and the bulk of the construction. He expects private philanthropy will be needed for $1 million to $2 million in construction costs.
No additional information was available on the Interior Department’s appropriations request Monday.
Sherry Devlin is a longtime Missoula journalist who writes occasional stories for Missoula Current, where this story originally appeared.