There are still specific plans to develop, but ideas for rebuilding the historic Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park are beginning to emerge, and the work to save what was left of the burned backcountry icon will help form the basis of that reconstruction.
Amidst all the fires across Montana this summer, perhaps no piece of the destruction hit so many people as hard as when the Sprague Fire destroyed the Sperry Chalet.
On August 31, the building burned when the Sprague Fire significantly expanded and surrounded the Sperry complex.
The chalet was erected in 1913 by railroad magnate James Hill, as he and his son looked at ways to spur westward tourist travel on their Great Northern Railway. The chalet opened in 1914, its rock and wood construction weathering decades of the elements..
The chalet was listed as a National Historic landmark, and although there had been a few changes and improvements, the facility was largely unchanged, serving hikers with private, rustic guest rooms and informal meals.
Despite efforts to protect the century-old structure during the fire, a weak spot - a gap under the eaves - was the chalet's undoing.
"The ember flew in underneath, unobserved, and by the time the fire was observed it was coming from the inside. That's exactly what happened at Sperry," said Glacier National Park Conservancy director Doug Mitchell. "So firefighters were in the scene. They'd wrapped the wooden parts of Sperry. They were ready to fight the fire. It just got inside before they could do anything about it."
Quick action by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, park officials, and construction crews means that they were able to come up with the plan to save the historic stone walls.
Planning started the morning after the fire, and using the brief window before winter set in, engineers came up with a plan to brace the remaining structure against the winter storms.
"I get a lot of emails saying those two by fours will never hold anything," Mitchel said. "I would agree if they were two by fours. They are six by six inch studs with 18-inch long bolts and rebar screws as well. This built to stay. This is a very stout piece of infrastructure."
The Conservancy is working on fundraising plans and supporting the park's efforts to evaluate the engineering report for a long-range rebuilding plan. Ideas have focused on clearing away debris, even re-using some of the remains and the new timbers already brought to the site.
"To take these great minds, the great craftspeople we have in Montana, volunteers, thousands of them and with our own two hands do what the people did in the 1910s. Which is to rebuild with our own two hands another icon for future generations, for the next hundred years of park visitors."