Glacier Park Begins Stabilization Work at Sperry Chalet

While fire continues to burn, park works to stabilize iconic chalet, reopen trails

By Justin Franz
The remains of the Sperry Chalet after it burned in the Sprague Fire, pictured on Sept. 1, 2017. Courtesy Glacier National Park

While the Sprague Fire continues to burn in the hills east of Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park employees are starting to pick up the pieces from a devastating fire season.

This month, stabilization work will begin at the site of the historic Sperry Chalet, which was heavily damaged by the Sprague Fire on Aug. 31. The park is also starting to look at removing thousands of trees that have fallen on trails, and officials say some routes in the burned area may not be open next summer.

As of the first week of October, the Sprague Fire has burned nearly 17,000 acres on the west side of the park. Spokesperson Lauren Alley said the fire continues to creep toward Lake McDonald and is burning along the still-closed Going-to-the-Sun Road. Hoses and sprinklers remain in place to protect a number of structures along the lake, including Lake McDonald Lodge.

Two weeks after the Sperry Chalet was heavily damaged by fire, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that rebuilding the two-story dormitory was a “top priority.” Interior officials announced that the Glacier National Park Conservancy was helping fund a structural assessment of the building’s remains by a Missoula engineering firm and stabilization work.

The conservancy is now soliciting donations from the public for future stabilization, preservation and renovation work. Donations can be made online at glacier.org or mailed to the Glacier National Park Conservancy, P.O. Box 2749, Columbia Falls, MT 59912.

Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said it’s too early to tell what the future holds for the chalet complex. All that remains of the two-story dormitory are the exterior rock walls and chimney. Other buildings at the complex, including the kitchen, dining room and utilities cabin, survived the fire.

Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said approximately 100 beams will be brought to the chalet site by helicopter to stabilize the remaining walls. The chimney will be secured with stabilization collars, and the gables will be surrounded with plywood.

“We want to protect the walls from wind and snow this winter,” Alley said.

            Park employees are also turning their attention to the more than 30 miles of trail in the burned area east of Lake McDonald. Alley said more than 1,900 trees have fallen on hiking trails in the area, and that number is expected to increase come winter. Alley said it’s too early to say how much trail work will be needed, but there are at least 2.5 miles of trail that will have to be completely rebuilt. Alley said it’s unknown when the trails will be reopened, but it’s possible that a number of popular routes like the Mount Brown Lookout Trail, Snyder Lake Trail and Sperry Trail will be closed well into next year.

The Lincoln Lake and Lincoln Creek trails were among the most heavily impacted by the fire. At least two small bridges were heavily damaged on Snyder Ridge. Numerous wooden bars that help direct water off trails were also destroyed.

“The scope of this fire is such that not all trail work will be able to be accomplished in one summer season, so the public will likely see some closures, at least intermittently, while trail work is done and tree hazards are mitigated,” Alley said.

The park is currently working on a Burned Area Emergency Response Plan and is requesting funds to rehabilitate the area impacted by the Sprague Fire. Alley said most of the funds would go toward clearing trails and cutting trees at the Snyder Lake and Lincoln Lake backcountry campgrounds.

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