Glacier National Park Conservancy launches $500K campaign for Sperry Chalet rebuild

From inside the surviving stone walls of Sperry Chalet, the view of Lake McDonald in the distance remains spectacular. (Glacier National Park Conservancy)

With the reconstruction of Sperry Chalet underway, the Glacier National Park Conservancy on Tuesday announced a $500,000 fundraising campaign to help pay the $4.5 million tab for this summer’s first phase of work.

Just back from greeting Dick Anderson Construction’s crew at the site, conservancy executive director Doug Mitchell said the “Sperry experience” is “alive and well today,” thanks to a unique partnership between Glacier National Park, the private conservancy and concessionaire Belton Chalets.

Not only are workers already tackling a lengthy to-do list and a deadline of Oct. 31 – or whenever snows chase them out of the high country – but the Sperry dining room is greeting hikers and horseback riders with refreshments.

Said Mitchell in his campaign announcement to conservancy supporters: “Although the dormitory building will remain under construction through next year, thanks to this partnership, the Sperry dining room is open and is, in my view, the best lemonade stand in the world.

“To say it was magical to sit yesterday in the Sperry Chalet dining room as hikers from around the country were greeted with a glass of lemonade and a cookie and proceeded to sit down and be in community with each other and with this special place is no exaggeration. Thanks to Conservancy support, hikers and the construction crew will be able to have that important fellowship of sharing time, experiences and breaking bread together this year.”

The first helicopter load of supplies reached Sperry Chalet on Monday. (Glacier National Park Conservancy)

Mitchell posted photographs on the conservancy’s Sperry Action Fund webpage showing the first helicopter delivering construction materials to the site 6.5 miles above Lake McDonald.

Also in his online album are photos of the work crew, photos from inside the burned-out chalet and “big picture” looks at Sperry Chalet’s spectacular setting.

The dormitory burned last Aug. 31 after embers flew off the advancing Sprague fire, igniting a second-floor room from the inside out.

The handful of firefighters positioned at the Sperry complex successfully fought dozens of ignitions, but did not know that sparks had gotten into the chalet, likely through gaps between the thick stone walls and timber support beams.

There was nothing they could do once the dormitory was aflame from the inside out.

Mitchell marveled at the difference in emotions, then and now.

Yesterday began a new chapter in the 104-year history of the Sperry Chalet,” he wrote Tuesday. “Nearly a year ago, we all mourned the loss of this iconic part of the park’s cultural identity and we wondered when, and if, the ‘Sperry Experience’ would ever return to Glacier Park.”

The conservancy’s first post-fire fundraiser successfully raised the $200,000 needed to quickly stabilize the chalet’s surviving stone walls before winter set in last October – and to monitor the chalet’s status throughout the winter.

Now comes the new, $500,000 appeal. A third, and likely largest, campaign is expected in 2019, when the major interior reconstruction will occur. Mitchell has said that appeal likely will total millions of dollars.

Already, this summer’s fundraising is going well, Mitchell said. An anonymous donor is matching other donations, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. By Tuesday night, the Sperry Action Fund webpage showed $339,917 raised and a new fundraising goal of $618,148.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has requested a $12 million appropriation for the Sperry Chalet rebuild, but Congress has not yet taken action.

This summer’s Sperry Chalet construction crew met on-site for the first time Monday. (Glacier National Park Conservancy)

This summer’s construction plan includes a new foundation to stabilize and level the iconic dormitory – so the structure can support a new roof.

Once the foundation is finished, the crew will tackle seismic stabilization as part of the construction of interior walls and floors and framing of the roof.

The roof will only be a “temporary membrane,” Glacier officials said this week. But it will serve the purpose of protecting Sperry Chalet – and the work accomplished this summer and fall – from next winter’s elements.

Phase 2 of construction will begin at about this time next year, with the goal of completing the reconstruction. The National Park Service will solicit bids for that work this fall.

Throughout most of this summer’s work – there may be trail closures on a few days while supplies and equipment are hauled in by pack train and helicopter – the Sperry dining room will be open, having survived the firestorm.

Lunch and a la carte service will be available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Breakfast and dinner will be available to the public via reservation through Belton Chalets. Call (888) 345-2649.

Construction workers will also be served meals in the dining hall.

In addition, concessioner Swan Mountain Outfitters will offer horseback rides to the chalet on a limited basis this summer. More details and reservation information are on their website.

At the site Monday, construction workers and park officials scouted the area. (Glacier National Park Conservancy)

The crew from Dick Anderson Construction was eager to mark the first day of construction with a group photo. (Glacier National Park Conservancy)