The comment period wraps up Monday on four proposals put forth in February for restoring Glacier National Park's famed Sperry Chalet, which burned during an ember storm from the Sprague fire on Aug. 31, 2017.
The structure’s stone walls are still standing, according to Amy Dempster, director of marketing and communication for the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
“We did another flight last week … and everything is looking more or less the same,” said Dempster, noting that they’ve hired a fixed-wing plane and photographer to fly over the chalet once a month, from February until May, to inspect the structure to see whether stabilization efforts are successful. “You can tell there’s significantly more snow than there was a month ago, but it appears everything is still standing.”
The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station puts the snow depth at 134 inches as of Friday, which is 123 percent of average. Snowdrifts almost cover one side of the charred stone structure, but the 16- and 20-foot long, 6-by-6 timbers installed in the interior to shore up the walls appear to be doing their job, with the gables sandwiched in plywood and the chimneys surrounded by collars of wood.
The conservancy, which is a nonprofit arm of Glacier National Park, has raised $131,225 so far through donations from around the world, Dempster said — almost $12,000 more than its initial goal. The group spent $120,000 on the materials and crews for the stabilization work, including transporting them via helicopter to the remote site. The chalet and other buildings that are part of the chalet complex are about 6 miles from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The nonprofit also hired DCI + BCE Engineers to assess the integrity of the remaining structure.
The effort to raise money to restore the popular backcountry dormitory is on hold until after public comments are considered and a decision is made by the park service on how to move forward.
The National Parks Service selected Anderson Hallas as the project’s architect, to lead the conceptual design effort as part of the “Sperry Chalet, the Next 100 years” project.
Four concepts are under consideration for the burned-out dormitory. Those include restoring the dormitory in place, but modernizing it; moving the building’s location so it’s away from recent avalanche activity; reconstructing it to as “close to as it was” with building code updates; or stabilizing the walls but not rebuilding it, and instead housing overnight visitors in yurts or wall tents.
Lauren Alley, a spokesperson for the national park, said that as of Friday morning, they’ve received 279 comments.
Earlier in March, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke said public comments overwhelmingly support rebuilding the dorm as close as possible to its original state, while making some upgrades.
Dempster said that once they know which alternative is preferred by Glacier National Park, they’ll resume the fundraising effort.
“Sperry definitely is a unique project and the entire chalet restoration is not fully funded — we don’t know how much will be needed until a decision is made,” Dempster said. “We are letting the park go through the formal public scoping process.”
She added that they probably will undertake additional structure reinforcement during the summer, since construction work on whatever option is picked probably won’t begin until the summer of 2019.
“I’m sure we’ll have to strengthen it for another winter,” Dempster said. “I expect they’ll clear the trail to the site and do some preconstruction this year, and evaluate and ensure that it’s really sound enough to work on in the future. It’s a remote site only accessible for a short period of time.”
The dormitory is part of the Sperry Chalet complex, which also includes a historic dining hall, and non-historic employee quarters, a trails cabin and toilet facility. Combined, the buildings are the largest collection of Swiss Chalet-style buildings in the United States, according to the National Park Service. They’ve served hikers since 1914, with the Sperry Chalet able to provide overnight stays for up to 50 people.
People interested in learning more about the project and commenting on it should visit parkplanning.nps.gov/sperrychalet2018. Written comments also can be sent to Superintendent, Glacier National Park, Attn: Sperry Chalet, P.O. Box 128, West Glacier, MT 59936.