Flyover shows Sperry Chalet dormitory walls still standing

by Missoulian, Perry Backus

A significant stabilization effort last fall to protect the charred walls of the Sperry Chalet dormitory building, gutted Aug. 31 when the Sprague Fire roared through the area, is holding up well.

A recent flyover showed the walls appeared to be in good condition.

In October, a 10-person U.S. Park Service crew fought freezing temperatures, rain and snow over a two-week period to brace the rock walls, sandwich the gables and surround the chimney with collars of wood to protect the more than century-old building from wind and snow.

Fundraising for the bulk of the stabilization project was spearheaded by the Glacier National Park Conservancy. More than 700 people from nearly every state and as far away as Australia and the Ukraine donated money to the effort to preserve the historic building.

By the time they were done, the crew had placed 100 16-foot 6-by-6-inch beams, 24 24-foot 6-by-6-inch beams and 24 sheets of plywood to brace the roofless building against the elements. Each beam weighed between 140 to 180 pounds. It took 15 helicopter trips to transport all the material in the site.

The conservancy’s marketing director, Amy Dempster, said the big question entering the winter was would the stabilization effort actually work.

“With this winter’s record snowfall, we knew there would be a lot of snow on the building,” Dempster said. “It seemed like a good plan to see how the structure was doing.”

Using funds left over from the initial fundraising effort for the stabilization project, the conservancy worked in partnership with Glacier National Park to fund the fixed-wing flight.

“It was very exciting to see the photographs,” Dempster said. “Had the building not withstood the snow so far, it would have changed the conversation about the future.”

The conservancy will fund two additional flights in March and April.

“We are very pleased to see that the dormitory walls are standing,” said Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “This information helps us significantly as we plan next steps for the chalet.”

In November, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Twitter “We’re going to rebuild @GlacierNPS Sperry Chalet better to last the next 100 years.”

In January, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester partnered with three Montana companies – SmartLam, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co., and The Washington Companies – to return the 79-foot Engelmann spruce that served as this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree to northwest Montana to be recycled and used in the dormitory’s rebuilding.

A spokesperson with SmartLam said Friday the tree is currently being stored in the log yard of the Stoltze mill in Columbia Falls. The decision on how it will be used hasn’t been made yet.

“This wooden and stone landmark, built in Glacier’s rugged backcountry more than a century ago, is irreplaceable,” Tester wrote in January. “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 Trees to assist in that endeavor.”

Dempster said the conversations on what will happen next at the Sperry Chalet are ongoing with the U.S. Park Service.

“We are still ready to help whatever the request,” she said.