Preparing for Another Summer at Sperry

National Park Service awards contract for second phase of chalet construction

By Justin Franz
Construction at the Sperry Chalet. Photo by Amy Boring, of A Boring Photo

Every spring for the last 14 years, Kevin Warrington has prepared for another season at the Sperry Chalet and that annual tradition did not change after the historic structure was nearly destroyed by a wildfire.

Warrington works for Belton Chalets, Inc., the official concessionaire for both Sperry and Granite Park chalets. While Sperry is still not welcoming overnight guests, Warrington and his staff will still be busy from July until September feeding hikers and a crew of hungry contractors busy rebuilding the beloved wilderness lodge.

The Sperry Chalet was nearly entirely destroyed in August 2017 during the Sprague Fire. While the main lodge was reduced to four stone walls, the kitchen building survived and that’s where Warrington and his crew work these days.

“It’s in the backcountry, it’s remote and you have to pack every piece of food in,” he said of the challenges of cooking deep in Glacier National Park. “You really have to plan ahead because you can’t just run out to the store if you forgot something.”

That same level of planning is necessary for the team that is currently rebuilding the chalet. On May 21, the National Park Service announced that it has awarded a $4.73 million contract to Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls to complete the second and final phase of the Sperry rebuild. Dick Anderson Construction began the work last year and by fall had stabilized the building and completed much of the interior. This year, contractors will finish masonry repairs, build a permanent roof and put the finishing touches on the interior. Officials hope the chalet will be ready to welcome visitors in the 2020 season.

“We look forward to working with Dick Anderson again,” said Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “They provided exceptional service to the National Park Service and the public last year.”

The Sperry Chalet was completed in 1914 and was one of a number of wilderness lodges built in Glacier Park by the Great Northern Railway. The chalet stood for more than a century before the fire. Soon after the blaze, former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced he wanted the historic wilderness chalet to be rebuilt. In the fall of 2017, Glacier employees conducted emergency stabilization work to ensure the remaining walls would survive the winter. The National Park Service streamlined the permitting process for rebuilding the chalet and in June 2018 announced that it would spend $12 million reconstructing Sperry over two years.

Building the chalet has not been without big challenges. Last year, two rotating crews of seven or eight people would hike six miles to Sperry and work for eight days before hiking back out for six days off. Travis Neil, project manager for Dick Anderson, said last fall the remoteness was something his team was prepared for. They were less prepared for the marmots that would rummage through workers’ tents and run off with whatever bounty that could find, particularly sweat-stained shirts full of salt that the critters love. To combat the animals, small electric wires were placed around the tents to shock marmots and keep them away.

The Glacier National Park Conservancy has also played a critical role in rebuilding the chalet and raised some of the funds needed in 2017 for the emergency stabilization work. The conservancy has remained involved in the project by paying for winter flights over the chalet to monitor the status of the building and to ensure that it was withstanding the winter.

“We stand at the threshold of an historic accomplishment,” said Doug Mitchell, executive director of the conservancy. “This remarkable achievement shows the power of a public-private partnership where all of us are pulling together to write the next chapter of the Sperry Chalet and Glacier National Park history.”

The public can see the work for themselves once the snow melts off the trail to Sperry. The Sperry Chalet dining room will be open during the summer from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a la carte lunch services. People staying in the nearby backcountry campground who are interested in having breakfast or dinner can make a reservation by calling Belton Chalets, Inc. at (888) 345-2649. At least a week’s notice is appreciated.