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?

Comments

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.

The question was asked -- do concessioners pay NPS to operate in the parks? And the answer is most assuredly yes. First -- concessions contracts are generally only ten years in length. The contract specifies the percentage of gross revenues which goes to the NPS -- and nationally, concessioner franchise fees are now approaching $80 million annually. Just to put that in perspective, that is equal or greater than the amount raised by the National Park Foundation and local friends organizations combined. By law, 80% of the fees paid stay in the park in which the fees are generated, and there is fair latitude for the superintendent of decide on uses of the funds. Some goes into building repairs. And in addition, the concessions contracts require capital investments by the concessioners. Some of the investment is classified as Leasehold Surrender Interests and are adjusted to reflect CPI and physical depreciation. But other investments are simply amortized over the ten year life of the contract. Ever wonder why Marriott, or Hilton, or even Choice hotels don't bid on concessions? Pretty simple. Way too much risk -- weather, fire, government shut-downs and more -- and no way to equal the economic gain when you buy and manage the land and improvements just outside a park.

Ok. There is a certain amount of sticker shock that goes with restoration of historic accomodations...until you factor in time, quality of materials, patina, historical value, and a number of other non-monetary considerations. If you factor in time alone, the cost of these lodges are many times ridiculously low---that comes with amortization over 80-100 years instead of 20 years. The lodges were meant to last, not to be torn down when their 30 year "life-cycle" was over. John Muir maintained that the parks were America's cathedrals. Do we really want to put up junk to honor them? I guarantee that if new lodges and accomodations were built with similar materials as the originals---honoring the places in which they exist---that the costs would be as high---or higher---than the rehabilitations. This is especially true if you factor in the compliance costs and the EXTREMELY CONTROVERSIAL nature of tearing down truly historic buildings.

Additionally, codes are so different now than they were when many lodges and accomodations were built, it isn't even funny. Every system, from foundations to accessibility standards, has to be "improved" to modern codes. THAT IS EXPENSIVE>>>>>. Both park managers and visitors are risk adverse, so ungrounded electrical circuits aren't allowed, handicapped persons must be accomodated, sewage systems can't just run into cesspools anymore, and the list goes on.

Really, it is more a choice of whether we pay for one F-16---or heart surgery for 20 Medicare clients---instead of restoring a historic lodge. In a budget where the NPS---protectors of the core of precious American resources---receives less than .5%, is it reasonable to ask the question whether essential elements of the parks' function (that's providing for the "enjoyment" of resources for those that don't have the Organic Act memorized) need to be "nickeled-and-dimed"?

Ridiculous, if you really think about it. Remember, this is the same government that pushed pallets of cash out of planes in Iraq and can't account for +$2billion in Iraq, alone. How many building restorations would that pay for in parks?

I stayed in a Roughrider Cabin, and there wasn't a thing I would change about it. I actually enjoyed the smell of wood smoke from the logs I stuffed into the stove - that heated the cabin. The other key was that the bathrooms were thoroughly modern.

The structural improvements to the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite are going to be in the tens of millions. I think it's well worth it.

Derrick Crandall:
Ever wonder why Marriott, or Hilton, or even Choice hotels don't bid on concessions? Pretty simple. Way too much risk -- weather, fire, government shut-downs and more -- and no way to equal the economic gain when you buy and manage the land and improvements just outside a park.
Those hotel companies don't necessarily have the expertise. Many (possibly most) of their locations are actually franchises.

Two of the big players are Aramark and Delaware North Companies. Aramark is huge in stadium/arena concessions, where they have to operate on long term leases in facilities that they don't own. The same goes (mostly) for Delaware North, although they also own an arena (TD Garden in Boston) where I assume they run the concessions themselves.

The other big players include Xanterra and Forever Resorts. I didn't know much about Forever Resorts, but looked them up. Apparently the same company as Forever Living - a multi-level marketing "beauty and wellness" company. They share the same eagle logo and the same address, but there's no mention of the connection on their website.

Consider the case of Crater Lake Lodge completely rebuilt and reopened for the 1995 season. The
historic problems were not completely corrected in that the Lodge Dining Room remains too small to be functional:
only 72 chairs (better be patient for evening dinner reservations now priced at twice their true value) with
snacks/meals being served in the great Hall Fireplace Room unattractive since little serious cleaning has taken place. Notice the Great Hall Fireplace devoid of a truly historic lodgepole log fire now replaced by a disappointing propane burner so inefficient that all the historic stones are now covered with soot whose particles rain down upon lodge guests sipping coffee or wine whenever an icy cold chimney downdraft blows.
Perhaps, worse of all, An historic roof composed of highly flamable
wooden shingles not adapted to heavy ice and snow which removes some shingles each spring as compressed
ice and snow inches downslope with glacier-like speed. Real historic lodgepole log fires not permitted in the
fireplace when NPS historians demand a flammable wooden roof vs A NON-COMBUSTIBLE ROOF RESEMBLING
ancient red-cedar shingles allowing snow and ice to glide off. These Historic roofs become very expensive to
maintain with CRLA replacing all or portions of wood shingle roofs on restored structures frequently during summer seasons.
The old historic lodge never had elevators so that compromise was made for safety and disabled codes, but many rooms are disppointingly small providing little in the guest-expected Lake Views; also, window screens which pop out whenever a toddler leans against them as occurred during the first 1995 open summer season.
Several hallways so narrow that one obese person or one guest in a wheelchair blocks access to the dirty public restrooms maintained poorly especially during the last three seasons. Surely, the NPS could have done better for an estimated $18 million plus (some accounting closer to an estimated $30 million) ? ...However, keep in mind, When
the old Lodge was closed in 1989 due to lack of serious maintenance, NPS Management decided that
there should be no Historic Lodge (once the 1915 version was removed)...But the nostalgia-factor won so, today CRLA does, Indeed, have a reconstructed Lodge still enjoyed by many unaware that a special thank you is appropriate to Oregon's former Senior Senator Mark Hatfield.

"Do we desecrate the memorial and the watery graves of those heroes by razing the Arizona to prevent such a disaster?" Absolutely not! Some of the best minds in America can clearly find a method for removing the oil from a mere 30ft of water, especially if they can top off an oil well at 30,000 feet. I traveled to Pearl Harbor this past December for the first time, and visited my uncle Malcolm's place of rest, the USS Arizona. His brother Gordon was far more lucky, and was blown free and clear and his body recovered following the attack. I almost wish Gordon had not been found, but was entombed for eternity with his brother aboard that ship. That ship will disintegrate, it is inevitable, but there is absolutely no need to take any action beyond oil recovery, let my uncle rest in peace. Gary Shive

Gary Shive:
"Do we desecrate the memorial and the watery graves of those heroes by razing the Arizona to prevent such a disaster?" Absolutely not! Some of the best minds in America can clearly find a method for removing the oil from a mere 30ft of water, especially if they can top off an oil well at 30,000 feet. I traveled to Pearl Harbor this past December for the first time, and visited my uncle Malcolm's place of rest, the USS Arizona. His brother Gordon was far more lucky, and was blown free and clear and his body recovered following the attack. I almost wish Gordon had not been found, but was entombed for eternity with his brother aboard that ship. That ship will disintegrate, it is inevitable, but there is absolutely no need to take any action beyond oil recovery, let my uncle rest in peace. Gary Shive
With a spewing oil well, there's really no concern about preserving the well site. They're willing to drill, explode, cement over, and cap it.

I would think there probably is no practical way of doing so without disturbing the remains.