Since the early 90’s, I’ve had a mad love affair with Montana. Raised back east, from the first moment I set foot on the land of Montana, I knew I was finally “home”. What binds us Montanans is how this land calls to our soul in such a deep and profound way. The part that speaks the loudest to me personally is the sheer beauty and breathtaking splendor of our own Glacier National Park.
A visit to Montana isn’t complete without spending time in Glacier. As Ernie Pyle said in a 1935 story for Home Country, “I wouldn’t trade one square mile of Glacier for all the other parks put together”. John Muir called it the “best care-killing scenery on the continent”. Muir concluded, “Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven”. Visitors to Glacier will agree: the most difficult part after experiencing the splendor of the Park is leaving to go home.
For years I’ve viewed the handful of old cabins along the rugged shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier and felt a degree of envy for those lucky people who were born into the right family, as these homesteads have passed from generation to generation, most for more than 100 years. For these lucky few, this was home.
Owning a property inside the boundaries of Glacier National Park is rare. To put this into perspective, when Glacier National Park was established 100 years ago, its new boundaries trapped more than 13,000 private acres claimed by homesteaders before the park was a park. Today, fewer than 125 tracts remain, scattered across less than 300 acres combined.
The dream to own property inside the park seemed like the impossible dream. As I searched for a property to create a family retreat in the summer of 2013, the area near Glacier was on the top of my list. What I didn’t know was that we would find a property for sale that was actually within Glacier National Park!
This property, the Grist home, had been listed for sale for more than a year. How was this possible that a home was available inside Glacier National Park and no one purchased it for more than a year? I believe that everything happens at the right time for the right reasons, and we were simply at the right place at the right time.
In 1947 Dwight Grist purchased a 7-acre property, including a home under construction, from Milo Apgar (of Apgar Village). Mr. Grist, a park ranger in Glacier National Park, completed the home and resided there with his family, with his two children attending the Apgar School (now a gift shop in Apgar Village). When the adult Grist children sold the home to us in July 2013, it hadn’t been occupied for nearly 40 years.
Our purchase of the Grist home was the first sale of private property within the boundaries of Glacier National Park to a private party in the previous 24 years. (Glacier National Park has purchased other properties through the years as funding was available, returning the land to the Park.)
It was our strong desire to renovate the original home and retain the historical charm. However, it soon became clear that not only the interior decor but also all major infrastructure including the foundation would require replacement. The cost to renovate would far exceed what it would cost to build a new home.
The question then became, “How do we honor what was, while creating a legacy property worthy of a location inside the Park”? After much contemplation, we collaborated with architect Max Fullbright to combine traditional Swiss architecture with the charm of Montana to create a Hansel and Gretel storybook cottage with a beautiful swooping entrance. Gently hidden behind the evergreens and bordered by two streams, we named it Glacier Bear Retreat.
With the skills of a team of dedicated local craftsmen, the 3200 square foot home was completed in five months and we moved in on Christmas Eve 2013. As far as we can tell from historical documents, this was the first new home constructed in the Park in more than 50 years.
We are incredibly grateful to have found this little slice of heaven and are honored to share this property with the wolves, mountain lions, bears, deer and elk who also call it “home”. We are also honored to be able to share it with you and hope to welcome you “home” soon. We invite you to be inspired by the beauty and awe that comes from living inside Glacier National Park.
Gail Lynne Goodwin