Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Closing Time

By: Cassandra Sunell

In northwest Montana, we have the opportunity of experiencing very distinct and vibrant seasons. We have the pleasure of enjoying sun-drenched summers filled with outdoor activities in the great backyards of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, cooling down in the waters of Flathead Lake and the three forks that feed into it, and picking the local cherries and huckleberries that ripen over the summer. The list of things to do and places to see seems endless, even for natives to the area.

Fast-forward to the following seasons. Winters make for harsh driving conditions at many of our properties, and the travelers that choose to travel through such conditions are very few and far between. For decades the Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) properties have shut down our operations throughout Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park and the East Glacier Park Village during the cold, arduous months—a very large task of closing each property to hibernate over the winter. For many years, there have been mainstays of employees who headed the closing project and helped carry on traditions that have lasted for nearly a century.

Vicki Murphy, Director of Rooms Division for GPI, who has been responsible for the opening and closing of dorms and hotels for the past 15 years, states “we have a short window to accomplish everything before the National Park Service turns the water off for the season.” Vicki described the closing process as “closing with opening in mind. We take advantage of the staff that we have on hand and do prep, stocking and deep cleaning for the following season. Essentially the rooms are staged for the opening crew to arrive and have everything they need with the exception of freshly cleaned linen and towels.”

Many Glacier Hotel during the winter of 2012
GPI hires approximately 1,200 staff members annually, and many bonds between staff are created at the opening of the season and are separated during closing. Kathy Eiland, Location Manager for Glacier Park Lodge (GPL), says that in her 3 years at GPL she felt that her staff has become her kids and that the lodge has become her home, so leaving your family and home is very difficult.  Some of these bonds last well beyond one season in the park, as was the case with Vicki, who turned a friendship with a coworker into a relationship.

 Vicki and her husband married and now have three children.  Vicki stated that in her fondest memories in working for GPI, “I have been mentored and brought into a role that I can be proud of and I am now honored to have been a mentor to some amazing people myself! I have overcome a fear of heights by carrying mattresses to the 6th floor of the Prince of Wales Hotel via the fire escape, jumped into lakes that were too cold to have been jumped into, seen so many bears that I shamefully drive right around the “bear jams” that happen in the park and have made friends that will be in my life forever.”

Fireplace at Lake McDonald Lodge
There are many closing traditions that are only shared amongst staff; however, Lake McDonald Lodge has begun to share their closing traditions with the public in recent years. In a time-honored tradition, from when the first log is placed in the fire of the lobby, the fire never goes out the entire season. After the last guest checks out on the last day, the bell staff takes the last log from the lobby fireplace and throws it into the lake. The bellman and many others on staff always follow the log by jumping into the lake. This year, the tradition will conclude with words from a few speakers in a closing ceremony.

Glacier Park Lodge hosts Centennial Reunion with over 100 past employees
GPI will close its properties for the winter months.  This conclusion, however, only begins the flourishing of family-like bonds and memories that will be made.   The employees that travel here from all over the world will reflect during the off-season of their experiences—be it friends, memories or lessons learned, and they will all remain touched in one way or another from the times spent in one of the most spectacular parts of the world. From all of us at GPI, have a wonderful “off-season!”

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