Tester requests Capitol Christmas Tree be used in Sperry Chalet rebuild

by Daily Inter Lake, Peregrine Frissell

U.S. Senator Jon Tester announced Monday that he would like to see the Christmas tree that’s adorned the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the past month hauled back to Montana and used in the reconstruction of the historic Sperry Chalet.

“This wooden and stone landmark, built in Glacier’s rugged backcountry more than a century ago, is irreplaceable,” Tester said in a press release. “But efforts are underway to rebuild the Sperry Chalet, and I can think of no better use for some of the Montana lumber in our Capitol Christmas Tree to assist in that endeavor. I’d like to see this tree go home to Big Sky Country, where it can continue giving to the people to whom our public lands belong.”

The Sperry Chalet burned down on Aug. 31, a casualty of the Sprague Fire. The tree, a 79-foot-tall Engelmann spruce, was initially harvested from the Kootenai National Forest and shipped to D.C. Each year, a different national forest is chosen to harvest the Capitol Christmas tree from. A sawyer from Troy cut down the tree in mid-November.

Efforts to save the foundation and 18-inch thick rock walls at the chalet have been underway since the day after the fire, and the stabilization project should preserve what’s left until funds can be raised for a more dramatic reconstruction effort.

Soon after the fire, the Glacier National Park Conservancy put out an initial request for $90,000 to add support beams and other stabilizing infrastructure to the walls that would help them stand until further plans could be made. It was an attempt to mimic the support that was previously provided by the walls and roofing.

It didn’t take long to raise that money. Doug Mitchell, the executive director of the Conservancy, told the Inter Lake in late December that the group had raised $180,000, and received donations from all 50 states and several other countries.

The construction effort went well, despite the fact that the crew and materials had to be airlifted in using a helicopter, since the historic foundation sits nearly seven miles into the backcountry. The work had to be done by hand without the use of heavy machinery.

Interior Secretary and former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke has also expressed support of reconstructing the high profile building.

Zinke initially made the statement on Twitter in early November, saying they would rebuild the chalet to last the next 100 years after a meeting with Park Superintendent Jeff Mow.

In an interview with Outdoor Life magazine late last week, Zinke said the newer iteration of the building would be more modern than its predecessor, including better sound-proofing.

“It was pretty rugged,” he told the magazine. “You talk to anybody who stayed overnight up there, and they’ll tell you about the sound-proofing. There wasn’t any. You could hear anything that was going on from one end of the lodge to the other, whether it was an argument or something, well, more amorous. A lot of kids got an education in that place.”

Sen. Tester is also arranging for the copper star that sat on top of the tree to come back to Montana and be housed at Montana Resources in Butte.