KALISPELL, Mont. (AP)—Each summer, thousands of visitors experience the majesty of Glacier National Park from atop the emerald-hued surface of Lake McDonald – just as the park’s earliest tourists did – by boarding the 56-foot oak-framed, cedar-planked DeSmet for a scenic boat cruise.
Every day from mid-May to late September, the historic vessel ferries passengers across Glacier’s largest lake, charting a course through the heart of the peak-studded McDonald Valley, where stands of western red cedar and hemlock mingle with Douglas fir around a fjord-like basin 10 miles in length and a mile wide, its burnished bottom-stones glittering beneath a halo of mountains.
This year, DeSmet launched for its 89th season on Lake McDonald, plying the glacial waters that serve as a lifeblood, keeping the great wooden boat afloat while forcing it to contemplate a perennial inner struggle to stave off rot while simultaneously retaining enough moisture to maintain its structural integrity.
In nearly 90 years, DeSmet has never left its home on Lake McDonald, and each winter it slumbers in the historic Fish Creek Bay boathouse at the foot of the lake, braving harsh winds and heavy snow and ice from within the cramped and dusty quarters, a custom-built and timber-framed fortress that has stood the test of time.
Burch is the owner of Glacier Park Boat Co., the son of its previous owner Arthur M. Burch and the grandson of its founder Arthur J. Burch. As such, he knows everything there is to know about the company’s six boats and how to maintain their original splendor while toiling away in remote, unheated boathouses in unpredictable weather under unforgiving circumstances.
Glacier Park Boat Co. has held the concession contract to operate the boats for recreational purposes in Glacier National Park since 1938.
Burch and Anderson initially paid $25,000 to buy out the contract and associated boats, boathouses and other equipment. The newly renamed Glacier Park Boat Company has operated continually under the same family ever since.
For the first time, however, that contract is up for renegotiation this year with the National Park Service, and Burch and his loyal crew had laments of their own as they launched DeSmet on Lake McDonald for what could possibly be its final voyage.
Three of the boats have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, a recognition that came after years of work by the company’s interpretive manager James Hackethorn. The boats added to the registry include Little Chief, Sinopah and DeSmet.