Monday, April 7, 2014

Sperry and Granite Park Chalets Celebrate 100 Years

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets. Both backcountry chalets were built in 1914 during a period when the Great Northern Railway was promoting Glacier National Park under the "See America First" campaign.

During the early 1900s some Americans were becoming alarmed over the increased spending of American dollars on European travel. While discussing Glacier one day, Senator "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman of South Carolina stated: "It is very ridiculous to me to see the amount of money spent by Americans to see the scenery of Europe without having first seen what we have at home." This concern provided one of the motivations for creating a national park at Glacier. Having an "American Alps," or a "Switzerland of the United States," such as Glacier, allowed America to compete against Canadian and European resorts and tourist attractions.

The Great Northern Railway played an extremely important role in the establishment of the national park during this time period as well. The Great Northern had a rail line running along the southern edge of Glacier, and saw the establishment of a national park as a way of increasing passengers on their trains, while also increasing their revenues.

So it was against this backdrop that the president of the Great Northern Railway, Louis W. Hill, began building a number of hotels and chalets throughout the park in the 1910s as a way of promoting tourism. These buildings were modeled on Swiss architecture as part of Hill's plan to portray Glacier as the "American Alps" or "America's Switzerland". Included in this project was a network of 9 European-style chalet complexes. Thus, leaving from one of Hill's luxury lodges, guests could hike or ride to one his rustic chalets in less than a day.

The chalets, built between 1910 and 1915, included Sperry, Granite Park, Cut Bank, Goat Haunt, Going-to-the-Sun (Sun Point), St. Mary, Gunsight Lake, Many Glacier, and one of the Two-Medicine Chalets (the other was converted into a store, which is still in use today). In their prime, several of the Chalets would host 100 to 150 guests a night.

Today, only Sperry and Granite Park remain. Both owe their survival to the use of native stone as their primary construction material. The masonry of these chalets made it possible to withstand Montana’s brutal winters. In contrast, the wooden structures of the other chalets deteriorated so badly that many had to be razed during the late 1940s.

Sperry Chalet:

Perched at an elevation of more than 6500 feet, Sperry Chalet sits high on a rock ledge that offers visitors commanding views of majestic mountain peaks, waterfalls, as well as Lake McDonald in the valley far below. The two main buildings at Sperry consist of a two story hotel and a kitchen/dining room. There’s also a modern composting restroom facility located between the two buildings.

The hotel, more commonly referred to as a "dormitory", was designed by Kirtland K. Cutter and Karl G. Malmgren, and contains 23 guest rooms. In 1992 the chalet was forced to close due to safety and environmental concerns. Fortunately it was restored and reopened again in 1999.

The only way to reach this backcountry chalet is by trail. Most people will hike the 6.1-mile Sperry Trail to the chalet. Reservations are required for overnight stays, but lunch and great views are offered to day hikers.

Granite Park Chalet:

Designed by architect Samuel L. Bartlett, the Granite Park Chalet consists of a dormitory and a "chalet" used as a dining hall, resident living quarters, and guest rooms. Compared to its sister to the south, the Granite Park Chalet is much more basic, and is essentially a simple hiker's hostel with virtually no amenities. It has 12 guest rooms, each with 2 to 6 bunks. There’s no electricity, but the common-area kitchen has a propane stove. The chalet rests just below Swiftcurrent Pass along the edge of a sub-alpine meadow that offers commanding views of Heavens Peak and the McDonald Valley.

As a result of the difficulty in maintaining the chalet, the Great Northern Railway sold the chalet to the National Park Service in 1954 for the princely sum of just $1.00. As with Sperry, Granite Park was forced to close as a result of safety and environmental concerns, but was reopened in 1996.

There are four trails that lead to the Granite Park Chalet. The Highline Trail, at 7.6 miles, is by far the most popular option. At just 4.2 miles, the Granite Park Trail from “The Loop” on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the shortest route, but climbs 2300 feet. The Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier is 7.6 miles in length and climbs 2400 feet. The fourth option is a very long trek from Goat Haunt near the Canadian border.

Additional Information on the History of Glacier's Chalets:

For more historical perspective on this subject, please check out Glacier's Historic Hotels And Chalets, which traces the creation and use of the Great Northern Railway’s hotels and chalet colonies in Glacier National Park, and includes many historic photographs.

Hiking in

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