While the world watched the harrowing stories from Hurricane Harvey’s destruction on the Gulf Coast last week, the nation suffered another heartbreaking blow some 1,900 miles away. Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters from around the country, on Thursday August 31st, the historic Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park succumbed to wildfire.
The Sperry Chalet opened in 1914, built by the Great Northern Railway as a respite for travelers in the park. Located in the remote areas of Eastern Glacier National Park, it was popular among backpackers and trail riders as an overnight destination on multi-day tours of the park.
This was the statement released by Glacier National Park via Instagram:
Glacier National Park staff, firefighters, and generations of park visitors and employees are heartbroken today at the loss of the main Sperry Chalet building. A highly skilled group of firefighters were assigned to defend the Chalet from the Sprague Fire using an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system. The hose lay and sprinkler system was tested daily. They also did fuel reduction around the five structures in the area. Protective wrap was applied in exposed wood areas and around the bottom of the buildings with decks as appropriate and safe. Given the remote area, size of the main building, and the stone construction, wrapping it in its entirety was not possible without mechanized equipment. A sprinkler system was installed and working on the Chalet’s roof. High winds on Thursday afternoon pushed the fire to the east. At approximately 6:10 pm on August 31, the on-scene firefighters who had been battling the “ember shower” from the approaching fire suddenly noticed puffs of smoke under an eave. They immediately sprayed the area with water because they thought it was an ember on the roof. Almost instantaneously, the window broke out and flames were licking at the eaves. Four helicopters supported the firefighters’ efforts with bucket drops on Sperry Chalet, as they had been doing in previous days. The main Sperry Chalet building was quickly engulfed in flames and burned into the night. Firefighters continue to protect the surrounding structures. We are grateful for their hard work and safety.
Between Hurricane Harvey and the loss of the Sperry Chalet, our hearts are heavy. In 2016 we hiked the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park to the Granite Park Chalet, the only other operating chalet in the park. In the past we’ve also visited the Lake McDonald Lodge and Sprague Creek areas of the park still now under threat by the wildfire. To imagine either of these places destroyed by wildfire is devastating.
Transformation and Change
Both events remind us of the rapid transformation and change we now face because of climate change. Park Chasing is not just about checking off all 417 units of the National Park Service on the list. It’s also about seeing our country’s most beautiful spaces before they change forever. While Houston will rebuild, some of the protected areas of the Texas Gulf Coast will be forever changed from the flood damage. And while fundraising efforts have begun to rebuild, for now hikers will miss the magic of those final miles of trail leading up to the respite of the Sperry Chalet.
Bottom line: the time to see our national parks is now.
Don’t wait to plan that big summer road trip you’ve always wanted to share with your kids. Don’t save the vacations for graduation, retirement, or when ‘things aren’t so busy.’ By seeing our most pristine places while they still exist, you’re making the memories that will last through the transformation and change. By taking your kids or grandkids to see the same places, you’re passing along the tradition of conservation that protected these places for years to come.
When we hear stories like the Sperry Chalet, we’re either grateful for our memories or saddened we’ve missed the opportunity to make them. We’re almost 100% sure no one ever says, “Oh…it’s such a shame I visited that place back then.” Traveling to the National Parks is the only insurance policy we have that we can experience the beauty and the history before it’s gone.
Don’t wait. See the parks now. Share them now.
We promise you won’t regret it.