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Glacier National Park Conservancy receives grant for Wheeler Cabin

Hungry Horse News | August 2, 2023 1:00 AM

The Glacier National Park Conservancy has received a Montana Historic Preservation Grant for the preservation of the Wheeler Cabin in Glacier National Park.

The cabin, which sits at the head of Lake McDonald, was once the summer home of Montana Sen. Burton K. Wheeler. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Park Service acquired the property from the Wheeler family in 2015.

The grant will provide the Conservancy with $493,200 of a $610,305 budget to restore the cabin to historic preservation standards as well as make it a functional facility.

Some of the work has already been done, noted Conservancy director Doug Mitchell. Last year a well was drilled and the Conservancy continues to make other improvements to the property.

A&E Design has been engaged as the architect of record and they are already hard at work on the engineering and architecture for the project. This year, the Park Service is replacing the McDonald Creek Bridge and access is limited. As a result, most 2023 work will be planning and compliance, with a busy 2024 construction season, Mitchell said.

The state historic preservation grants come from the state bed tax under a law that was passed in 2019.

Mitchell said the vision for the property is both as an educational venue and as a place where state, federal and even international leaders could come to meet and work on issues.

A Camp David, if you will, but in Glacier National Park, called the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park Center.

“The core heartbeat of the setting is peace,” Mitchell said in an interview earlier this year.

The idea has been years in the making.

In 2015, Glacier National Park, the Glacier Institute, the Glacier Conservancy, the representatives of interested local nonprofits, and a member of the Wheeler Family formed a partnership to determine the future use of the Wheeler property that would best benefit the constituencies represented by each of the partners.

Mitchell said the University of Montana has shown interest in perhaps operating the center once the renovations are complete.

The property is rich with history. According to the National Register of Historic Places narrative of the property, Wheeler first took his family on vacation to Glacier National Park in 1915.

They later bought a cabin owned by Wyoming rancher and guide Howard Eaton in 1917 and used it as a day cabin until it burned in 1941.

The family spent a lot of time clearing the land around the cabin until it had a grass lawn and was in a park-like setting of trees.

By 1952, there were five structures on the lot — including a boathouse.

All the structures but the main cabin were lost in the Howe Ridge Fire of 2018. The main cabin suffered damage in the fire as well.

Today the campus, like many things post-fire in Glacier National Park, is renewing and the cabin now sits in an idyllic setting, which blooms with wildflowers in the summer months.

Tourists have found it to be a place of peace from the hustle and bustle of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The grant is one of 44 grants recently announced by the Montana Department of Commerce, totaling $10 million.

Locally, the Hockaday Museum of Art also received a $31,000 grant for its building.

Eligible applicants for the Montana Historic Preservation Grant program include incorporated nonprofit organizations, incorporated cities or towns, associations, counties and tribal governments. The next application cycle for the program is expected to be in the fall of 2023 with a tentative grant deadline of Feb. 28, 2024.

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