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Reader Participation Day: Can We Afford to Save All Historic Lodges in National Parks?


Should the National Park Service have embarked on a rehabilitation of the Many Glacier Hotel, one that has cost some $20 million already, or razed the lodge and started anew? Kurt Repanshek photo.

Whether you hold a sentimental tie to national park lodgings, or look at them nostalgically, can we afford to hold onto all historic lodge facilities in the National Park System?

In Glacier National Park, the National Park Service has already spent $10 million on rehabilitation work at the Many Glacier Hotel, and this fall work on another $9.5 million project will get under way in the lodge set on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake.

At Mount Rainier National Park, $22.5 million was spent on not just bringing the Paradise Inn up to code, but to place it on a sturdier, and straighter, footing in a project that shuttered the lodge for two years.

In Yellowstone National Park, while the Roughrider Cabins at Roosevelt hark back to an earlier day of national park travel, are these tiny, drafty, cob-web draped facilities still apropos for today's park visitors, or should they be replaced with sturdier, more comfortable accommodations?

There are other examples that can be cited throughout the park system, aging facilities that haven't been properly kept up and now would need tremendous infusions of money to raise them up to today's standards, both code-wise and comfort-wise.

Of course, there also are examples of where the investment in rehabilitation has been well worth it, places such as the Paradise Inn and the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.

But sometimes it actually would be cheaper to raze a building and start anew. Recently the folks at Kings Canyon National Park determined just that when looking at the Grant Grove Restaurant.

What do you think? Should no expense be spared in rehabilitating places such as Many Glacier, or could the money be better spent on new buildings, ones that retain the character of "parkitecture" but which also offer bathrooms that aren't so tiny that you have a hard time changing your mind in them?


Leave Many Glacier Hotel alone! Raze it, my rear!!!!!!!!!!!!! That hotel is as much a part of the Park as Chief Mountain is! That is heritage, folks, and we should preserve it! Rehabbing it though is hindered by the National Historic Marker designation. It needs to be updated - with better windows, better chinking between the logs, etc. That they aren't allowed to do be cause of the Historic Register designation.

There's never an easy answer. To witness the razing of the Old Faithful Inn for example, stare at the ugly scar for however long it takes to erect a replacement, and survive with the memories of the grand old place that was, may be too much to bear. Save it no matter the cost. Do whatever it takes to keep it alive. But then we forget that in order to do that, many of the same scars will be witnessed for some time. Remember the Old Faithful Visitor's Center? The trailers, the big Cats, the noise, the traffic jams.

Is it worth it no matter which choice is made? Yes. To me it is. I cite the example of the Marienkirche in Dresden, Germany. Flattened by firebombing in 1945, the church remained a rubble until just a few years ago. Plenty of folks were still around at the time to maintain the sentimental voice of salvation and memory of what once was. That voice was heard. Men and women trained in the ancient arts of such architectural wonders, rare, gifted people, gathered together and rebuilt the church with that rubble, resurrecting it to its former splendor in every way possible. Modern amenities were added sparingly and carefully (mostly hidden) to ensure preservation for the future.

Another example is Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial. Tomorrow, October 7, the site will be closed for some much needed upgrades to the boat docks. That's a pretty minor intrusion that most people can handle with minimal squawk. But there is another heated debate going on about what to do with the USS Arizona itself. She continues to leak oil at an increasing rate while her structural integrity continues to fail from age and salt water corrosion. Eventually thousands of gallons of oil could burst from a rupture. Do we desecrate the memorial and the watery graves of those heroes by razing the Arizona to prevent such a disaster?

These questions quickly become more about greater, weightier things than the comfort of tourists and income for the Parks. Aside from Divine intervention, we do our best to decide and do the right thing and we carry on. Thank God for the good memories and digital photos when in the end things don't go our way.

As with most things in life, there is no simple answer to your question, Kurt. In many cases, key portions of historic structures can and should be preserved -- but the buildings can also be brought up to modern standards of energy efficiency, access and more. Look at what has just been done at Fort Baker in Sausalito. The old officer quarters, barracks and operations buildings have been largely restored but changed for reuse as a conference center. But in other cases, it may be time for replacement and develoipment of new, park-appropriate structures. Again, some of the structures at Fort Baker were raised and some 75 new lodging units added, with designs that are both modern and non-intrusive.

I do think that the cost of the Many Glacier Hotel project -- some $30 million in taxpayer funds -- will leave us with a facility that will still have problems that impact guest enjoyment and O&M costs, and that other alternatives were available.

So my answer: save wherever possible, even if just the fascade, but use new standards and building products that make costs and the quality of experiences park-friendly.

I had the opportunity to stay in one of the 1920s "Pioneer" cabins near Lake Lodge at Yellowstone this summer. It was spartan - shower stall, toilet, sink, bed - no telephone, no TV, no AC. It had been maintained well enough, but looked like it hadn't been updated since the 1950s. But it was, nonetheless, a great stay. I got the sense of decades of travelers who had come before me to view Yellowstone. Who needs TV or marble tub in that amazing wilderness, anyway? I loved it. And it was the least expensive night I spent on my 5-week tour around the western national parks.

I fear that sometimes money is wasted updating things that are still useful, functional, affordable. The extensive rehab of the Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier and the Crater Lake Lodge were indeed exceptional. But, especially at Crater Lake, which was substantially rebuilt, a sense of the history of the building was lost - it seemed a bit sterile. Perhaps less intervention can be done at lower cost in our National Parks. Perhaps by updating the bathrooms, making sure the elevators work, ensuring structural stability, but keeping most of the historic fabric intact we can preserve the historic sense of Park architecture throughout the system. And preserve the affordability of some of the more modest accommodations.

Let's not forget that the NPS is making the investments and the concessioner is making the profits. Is this really the right model for these historic lodges?

This is a false issue. Virtually every one of these old hotels and lodges is on the National Register of Historic Places and cannot be destroyed or even damaged without compliance with Sec. 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and NEPA. Nor should they. They are significant cultural resources conveying an important part of the park story.

Do the concessionaires pay anything to the parks for the right to sell things? If not, there should be a percentage of what they make that goes back to the park and could be used for maintenance. As a former restaurant owner, I sometimes look at how busy the park restaurants are and the service is always lousy! Think what they could do if they were efficient! Most of the lodges we have been to I would like to see saved. The architecture is such a part of the history of our national parks and it is always fun to go and dream about who has been there and who will be there to see it.

They absolutely can be saved and should be.

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