Friday, June 22, 2018

National Park Service Releases Review of Fire at Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet

The National Park Service (NPS) has issued the results of an independent review and investigation of the fire that burned the dormitory of the Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park in August 2017.

The review outlines the origins and growth of the Sprague fire over the course of three weeks, until it reached the Sperry Chalet complex on August 31. It concludes that despite the best efforts of firefighters to protect all the structures at Sperry Chalet, an ember entered the structure near a second story window and ignited the wooden portion of the structure.

Fire crews successfully protected other structures within the Sperry Chalet complex. No lives were lost and no injuries occurred while defending the complex.

"Growing up near Glacier National Park, I have a special appreciation for the cultural significance of the Sperry Chalet," said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "I applaud the great work of the firefighters who responded so bravely to the flames, and I look forward to rebuilding the Sperry Chalet as part of President Trump's focus on our American infrastructure. Still, the size and scope of the Sprague fire reminds us that aggressive fuels management is necessary to keep Americans safe from wildfires, particularly in the West. We need to continue removing the dead and dying timber from our forests so that we can truly address this problem."

The summer of 2017 was a challenging fire season nationwide. The location of Sperry Chalet deep in the park's backcountry presented additional logistical obstacles to firefighting. Water availability to operate sprinklers and hose systems was a concern due to early snowpack melt and lack of spring and summer precipitation. The lack of roads in the vicinity of the chalet made it impossible for fire engines to assist.

Retardant drops had been considered to assist in the protection of the Sperry Chalet complex, however, the terrain that makes for beautiful views from the chalet also made effective aerial retardant drops extremely difficult and dangerous to pilots. At the time the dormitory caught on fire, winds were blowing at 20 to 30 miles per hour and smoke blanketed the area.

The review provides observations and recommendations for the National Park Service and interagency fire community. Among these, the review team noted:

● Sprinklers were installed on the roof of the dormitory by a Glacier National Park maintenance employee trained in fall protection. The sprinklers were operating at the time the dormitory ignited.

● Recommend that specific NPS wildland firefighters also be trained in fall protection to safely install sprinklers and shelter wrap. The focus for this training could be for parks with remote, high-risk historic structures.

● During the incident, there was much discussion about shelter wrapping the Sperry Dormitory. Shelter wrapping involves installing an aluminum barrier curtain around the entire structure. The review team consistently heard that firefighter safety was the first priority and the dormitory could not be completely and effectively wrapped due to the building construction. The lower part of the building was wrapped and was the highest level of work that could be accomplished safely and effectively.

● Structure protection means that firefighters take appropriate measures, such as safely wrapping the areas where it will be effective, and realize that sometimes it means accepting unavoidable vulnerability, especially when highly flammable structures are situated in dangerous topographic settings.

“Wildland firefighters put forth their best effort in a difficult situation. We will use what we learned from the loss of this iconic structure to improve where we can safely do so,” said National Park Service Fire Director Dan Buckley. “The action items resulting from the investigation and review will inform us for managing risk in future similar situations.”

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said, "I and the park staff want to thank the review team. We appreciate their work and professionalism while reviewing this difficult event. We also deeply appreciate the work of the firefighters who tirelessly fought the fire throughout the night on August 31 at the Sperry Chalet Complex, saving the historic dining room and multiple other important buildings. We now turn our attention to restoring the Sperry Chalet experience for the next 100 years."

The NPS delegated the review and investigation of the fire at Sperry Chalet to an independent team of six interagency fire experts in September 2017. The primary goal of the investigation was to determine the dormitory fire’s cause, while the review was to understand the decisions made based on the conditions that existed, and to identify and share lessons learned within both the National Park Service and interagency fire community.

The review report and fire investigation are located on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned website.

Additional images and video are available on Glacier National Park’s Flickr page.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yellowstone Forever grants $5.9 million to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Forever is providing $5.9 million to fund 53 priority projects in Yellowstone National Park including the wolf program, trailhead information displays, and black bear research.

“Yellowstone National Park is a wonderland that deserves our stewardship and support,” said Heather White, Yellowstone Forever President & CEO. “At Yellowstone Forever, we are proud to partner with the National Park Service to fund vital park projects and exceptional educational programs that inspire and engage. We look forward to continuing our work together to help preserve and enhance the world’s first national park for generations to come.”

Projects funded by Yellowstone Forever include wildlife research and management, visitor experience, youth education, and sustainability, among others. In 2018, $1 million will support the National Park Service’s Native Fish Restoration program, a major effort to restore native fish populations to sustainable levels. Another grant will go towards visitor and wildlife safety education, providing support for seasonal rangers and volunteers to deliver safety information at wildlife traffic jams, demonstrations on how to use bear spray, and safe hiking and camping practices.

Other grants support programs that directly engage youth, helping cultivate the next generation of stewards. The Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps is a work-based learning program that engages teams of 15- to 18-year-olds in leadership, education, recreation, and work activities. The program promotes stewardship of Yellowstone and other wild places among the next generation, while also providing much-needed work for park projects.

While not everyone has the chance to visit Yellowstone, the park can still reach new audiences by visiting students in their schools through distance learning programs. Since 2011, Yellowstone has offered the opportunity for classrooms to have a park ranger visit them virtually through video conference technology. Students can learn about topics such as volcanoes, park ecology, wildlife, and history. Demand for this program continues to grow each year, and support from Yellowstone Forever will ensure students from around the world participate in this program for years to come.

“Yellowstone National Park staff whole-heartedly thank Yellowstone Forever and the generous donors for their commitment to this exceptional place,” said Superintendent Dan Wenk. “This park is incredibly fortunate to have such a sophisticated and professional partner in Yellowstone Forever. The dedication they show in their work enhances park resources and visitor experiences.”

Yellowstone Forever is the official education and fundraising nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park. Proceeds from Yellowstone Forever’s educational Park Stores, Institute, and philanthropic efforts support priority park projects and visitor education. Thanks to generous donations from supporters around the world, Yellowstone Forever, and its predecessor organizations, have provided over $106,000,000 cash and $171,000,000 in-kind support to Yellowstone National Park.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

National Park Service Awards Contract for First Phase of Sperry Chalet Construction at Glacier National Park

The National Park Service (NPS) announced last week the award of a $4.08 million dollar contract to Dick Anderson Construction out of Great Falls, MT, to begin rebuilding the historic Sperry Chalet Dormitory in Glacier National Park. The chalet was badly burned in August 2017 during the Sprague Fire that burned thousands of acres in the park. Construction will be completed in two phases, beginning this summer and continuing into 2019.

The NPS expects that work this year will begin in early July, and continue through mid-fall, weather permitting. The Denver Service Center, the NPS’ central planning, design, and construction management office, awarded the contract for phase one and will oversee the upcoming project.

The first phase of the project will include permanent building stabilization, including roofing and interior seismic walls. The work will complement Phase 2, scheduled for the summer of 2019, and provide additional protection as the chalet faces wind and heavy snow next winter.

The initial construction phase will be funded primarily with federal dollars. Subsequent project phases will be funded with a $1.2 million property insurance reimbursement, privately solicited donations from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and additional federal funds.

Rebuilding of the Sperry Chalet on its original site was made possible because of the quick response and financial support of the Conservancy immediately after the fire. The Conservancy raised $200,000 for a “Phase Zero” emergency stabilization and preservation of the chalet’s stone masonry walls before winter set in. The response also reduced subsequent project costs.

"The outpouring of support for this project has been inspiring," said Doug Mitchell, Executive Director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. "We're honored to help provide private, philanthropic support for this historic project.”

“The fact that we are here today to announce the award for Phase I of the Sperry rebuild speaks to the power of the Glacier community and partnership. Throughout our design process, we heard from visitors around the world about the significance of the Sperry Chalet visitor experience,” said Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “I would like thank everyone who provided feedback and ideas about how we preserve that experience for the next 100 years. The award of the Phase I construction contract to Dick Anderson Construction puts us a long way towards that goal.”

The NPS will rebuild the Sperry Chalet Dormitory at its original site within the original stone masonry walls. The design will rehabilitate the chalet dormitory reflecting its period of significance (1914-1949). Some critical updates will include meeting current building codes where applicable, and improvements to life safety features including seismic bracing and fire resistant materials. The visitor experience will be very similar to what it has been for decades by using as much of the remaining historic fabric, and replicating historic finishes where practicable. For more information, please visit the Sperry Chalet planning webpage.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Glider Wreckage Found in Grand Teton - Rangers Recover Two Bodies

Teton Interagency Dispatch was contacted at approximately 12 p.m. Saturday, June 9, about two individuals that did not return from a scenic glider ride that departed from Driggs, Idaho. The call was being investigated by the Teton County Wyoming Sheriff’s Office as initial indications were that the glider and individuals may be located south of the park boundary.

As park crews were mobilizing to assist Teton County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, the park received information that one of the individual’s phone was pinged and it indicated a location in the park. An independent helicopter then contacted the park that they saw what they believed to be glider wreckage in the park. Park rangers flew to the site, confirmed it was the glider and that there were two deceased individuals. The wreckage was located between the Middle and South Teton, above Icefloe Lake at approximately 10,800 feet.

Park rangers recovered the two bodies via a long-line aerial operation.

The glider pilot is identified as Kristine Ciesinski, age 65, of Victor, Idaho. The other individual is identified as David Ross, age 65, of Salt Lake City.

The National Park Service is conducting an investigation.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Exhibits Planned for Glacier View Turnout - Temporary Closure of Turnout Next Week

The Glacier View Turnout, located approximately 3.5 miles north of the Moose Junction on US Highway 26/89/191, will be temporarily closed from Monday, June 11 through Friday, June 15 for construction activities to prepare the site for a gathering area with educational exhibits.

During this time, visitors will be able to access nearby turnouts including Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Schwabacher's Landing, Teton Point Turnout, and Snake River Overlook, all located along US Highway 26/89/191.

The park is creating an interpretive and educational exhibit that will allow visitors to learn about several themes related to the park, including the historic and continuing role that philanthropy has played in the evolution of lands in Grand Teton National Park. Installation of the exhibits and stone benches is planned for the spring.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Yellowstone visitor gored by bison after crowd gets too close

On the morning of June 6, 59-year-old Kim Hancock of Santa Rosa, California, was gored by a bull bison at Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin.

Hancock and a crowd of people approached within ten yards of the bison while walking along a boardwalk. At one point, people were closer than 15 feet from the bison. When it crossed the boardwalk, the bison became agitated and charged the crowd, goring Hancock. The bison immediately left the area.

Rangers responded to the incident and treated Hancock for a hip injury: she was transported by paramedic ambulance to the Big Sky Medical Center in Big Sky, Montana, in good condition.

This incident remains under investigation.

This is the second incident of a bison injuring a visitor in 2018. There was one incident in 2017 and five in 2015. In a little over a month, four people have been injured by wildlife in Yellowstone.

Animals in Yellowstone are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be. Give animals space when they’re near trails, boardwalks, parking lots, or in developed areas. Always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals, including bison and elk. If you can’t maintain these distances, turn around and find an alternate route.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Second Person Injured By Elk In Accidental Encounter in Yellowstone

Penny Allyson Behr, age 53, from Cypress, Texas was attacked by a cow elk in an accidental encounter behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel on the morning of Tuesday, June 5. Ms. Behr was walking between two cabins when she was surprised by an elk bedded along the cabin wall with a calf nearby. She attempted to back away but the elk pursued and struck her with its legs in the head and torso. Ms. Behr was taken by ambulance to Livingston Memorial Hospital.

It’s very common for cow elk to aggressively defend newborn calves and hide them near buildings and cars. Be extra cautious anywhere elk and calves are present: approach blind corners slowly and maintain a safe distance (at least 25 yards).

It’s not known if this was the same elk involved in the incident on June 3. Rangers hazed the elk away from the cabins and continue to monitor the area. No citation was issued.