Summer in Polebridge is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, wandering one of the wildest corridors left in the lower 48 without the benefit of power, pavement, or phone service.
And the Polebridge Mercantile has served as a traveler’s oasis in this wild land for more than a century, an island of at least a few creature comforts in a gorgeous but otherwise uncaring environment.
So far this summer, which has barely started, visitation is twice what they’ve experienced before, according to owner Will Hammerquist, and a quick interview with assistant manager Jake Janes proved there are pockets of downtime, but they are few and far between already.
Not only is the Merc itself a destination, but the road continues into Glacier National Park at the northern entrance. The number of visitors using the Polebridge entrance in June 2017 was 7,310, a massive increase over the previous year’s 4,545. By July, those numbers were hitting nearly 13,000, compared to just over 8,200 the year prior.
There are several new additions to the Merc and its property that visitors will enjoy, Janes said. One of the biggest improvements that will likely get the most praise is the upgraded bathrooms and showers now installed behind the Merc.
Janes said the building was formerly employee housing, and they razed that building to construct two new full-service bathrooms. Visitors can use the toilets, and can pay to use the showers, Janes said.
As a bonus, visitors who use the bathrooms, including the showers, will know that their water is clean and green (meaning it was heated by the sun; the water itself is quite clear).
“We have a solar hot water system,” Janes said. “If you shower or wash your hands, you’re going to be using it.”
The Merc itself is now running on solar power about 75 percent of the time, which is a big improvement for the summer; in the winter, when the Merc isn’t as busy, they can hit up to 90 percent powered by the panels.
There are 102 panels producing about 55 kWh a day, Janes said, meaning the Merc usually only has to turn on the diesel generator at night or briefly during the day when everything is in full swing.
Janes said one of most important upgrades is likely invisible to visitors, but will be appreciated for decades of wanderers to come: over the winter, crews built a supporting wall to keep the century-old building from leaning. The entire front portion of the Merc is glass, and the building’s trajectory was going to make keeping the glass up almost impossible.
“We spent our entire winter building a sheer wall,” Janes said. “That wall is the only reason the Merc will stay standing for another 100 years.”
Hammerquist also started an organic farm behind the Merc this year, with a fruit and vegetable stand next to the building to sell the produce that isn’t used in the bakery.
The crew at the Merc and the rest of the residents and characters of the North Fork are also ready for the annual Fourth of July parade, taking place at noon, wherein anyone can participate, and if you don’t catch the parade the first time, you’ve got a chance to jump in for the second or third go-round.
There are absolutely no fireworks allowed.
For more information on the Polebridge Mercantile, visit www.polebridgemerc.com.
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