Even though I never once set foot inside Sperry Chalet, I loved it. Who didn’t?
I could tell you stories — stories like the one about looking down at Lake Ellen Wilson from Gunsight Pass, knowing the chalet sat just beyond and fending off mountain goats as they attempted to lick my legs. I could tell you about my neighbor, Roberta Rink, one of the kindest people on the planet, who named her daughter Sperry. Or I could tell you about when my dear friend, Carol Savage, snuck off to Hawaii and married her sweetheart, Blackfeet tribal bear biologist Dan Carney, the best gift I could imagine giving such extraordinary friends was money toward a stay at Sperry Chalet.
We suffered a loss that dark, smoky night. A loss made more devastating because it shocked us. Like many, I thought the firefighters would save the place and they worked valiantly to do so. But on that night, like events in Glacier tend to do, nature reminded of us of its indifferent power. I received a text from Savage as she worked the Scalplock Lookout: “A pall has descended over the park.”
We are grieving. Solid decision-making is not a hallmark of the aggrieved. Hence, the plan to rebuild, the fundraisers, the making of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “top priority” list, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s call to repurpose the capital Christmas tree into beams — all part of the deafening clamor to alleviate our discomfort with impermanence by taking action, all a misguided attempt to recover an irrecoverable loss.
In Glacier we encounter forces — wind, cold, grizzly bears, wildfire — that remind us we are not in control. But instead of feeling diminished by that experience, we enjoy the relief of simply being, the thrill of existing without the pressure to exert our will. Rebuilding Sperry constitutes a middle finger flung in the face of the lessons Glacier teaches.
Owing to the tricky reservation system, Savage and Carney never got to use their wedding gift. At over $250 per night and with a riotously competitive booking process, a stay at Sperry remained an extravagance out of reach for most Americans, and certainly the majority of Montanans. So for the benefit of whom would we rebuild?
Can we take a collective deep breath and consider habitat? Glacier’s environmental impact statement describes the effect of 40-50 helicopter flights per day on grizzlies as “temporary and transitory.” That, my friends, is utter hooey. The truth is none of us know the true impact of days of nonstop helicopter flights on wildlife. We do know the park has used helicopters to haze grizzlies, so choppers are far from innocuous.
With sympathy for all those who feel the grave loss of Sperry Chalet, that historic building was destroyed by a natural event. There are lots of structures in the world but only one Glacier Park. It is our duty to not imperil it with an unnecessary construction project.
We spent thousands of dollars defending a building inside a proposed wilderness area. How many tens of millions are we willing to spend to build yet another exclusive lodge that will never replace the one we lost? That money would be better spent on toilets and shuttle buses, projects that ensure access to the park while helping to mitigate the impact of so many visitors on critical habitat.
Sperry’s true value lies in our stories, our relationship to an extraordinary place. Those connections to vistas, to the children we name and the loves that we celebrate burn, untouched by fire.