GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — The race to shore up the charred rock walls, chimneys and gables of Sperry Chalet’s dormitory before winter is done.
The iconic dormitory building was gutted in a fire on Aug. 31.
A 10-person national park crew faced freezing temperatures, rain and snow over a two-week stint to brace the walls, sandwich the gables with plywood, and surround the chimney with collars of wood in an effort to protect the more than century-old structure from wind and snow.
The crew was flown off the 6,500-foot elevation site Monday.
The stabilization work that was completed on the structure may not have been possible without the financial help of more than 700 donors from nearly every state and from countries as far away as Australia and the Ukraine.
The fundraising effort to stabilize the chalet was spearheaded by the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Donors offered as little as $10 to as much as several thousand dollars to help pay for the stabilization work.
“The conservancy was ready to help from day one,” said Glacier National Parks spokesperson Lauren Alley. “We were up against winter and we needed to be able to put people up there quickly. The generous donors helped make that happen.”
Every year, the conservancy works directly with Glacier Park officials to raise funds for as many as 50 different projects outside of what the park budget would allow.
The conservancy’s marketing director, Amy Dempster, said finding the funding for the stabilization work on the chalet was outside that annual process.
“From the very beginning, it was really clear how many people wanted to jump right in and help with the project right away,” Dempster said.
The conservancy set out to raise $106,200 to help pay for the engineering and materials as well as the helicopter costs for transport. As of Monday, the Sperry Action Fund had $111,200.
The National Park Service chipped in another $18,500 to help pay for the effort.
Whatever money is raised beyond the conservancy’s initial goal will be set aside to pay for work specific to the Sperry Chalet next year. While it’s too early to know for sure what those projects will include, Dempster said she knows for certain the trail leading to the chalet that needs a significant amount of work.
The decision on how that money will be spent next year will happen after the park makes its annual requests for grants.
No one knows for sure what the future holds for what remains of the Sperry Chalet dormitory.
“As far as I know right now, they did get everything done that they had hoped to accomplish as far as stabilizing the structure,” Alley said. “The chalet is located in a pretty vulnerable location. We had a large avalanche that did some damage a couple of years ago.
"There is always the possibility of unexpected events to occur.”
Once spring comes, engineers and others will take a hard look at the remaining structure to determine its future.
Alley said the park service knows that people have an attachment to the chalet, including even those who haven’t yet been able to travel there.
“For a lot of people, it does continue to feel like they’ve lost a close friend or a family member,” Alley said. “We know that it’s really important to people. As soon as possible next year, we’ll do a deeper assessment of what’s left there before making a decision on how to move forward.”
If people had not stepped forward to pay for the heavy beams, plywood and the cost of getting it all to the site, the chance to rebuild the structure may have been lost forever.
Dempster said she saw photographs Monday of the crew preparing to leave.
“The snow looked really deep,” Dempster said. “If they hadn’t been able to get in there quickly and get the work accomplished, there might not have been another opportunity to save it.”