Those of you who drive from Highway 93 into Stevensville regularly may have noticed, if you glanced north towards Fort Owen State Park, that the old fort suddenly got a new roof. It was sudden if you count the time from start to finish on the roof which is all that you could see from the road. They were hustling to beat the winter weather. But if you look behind the scenes, it was a long time coming.
According to Region 2 Park Management Specialist Loren Flynn, the state has been aware for quite some time that the fort roof was in need of repair. But with finances being really tight and then the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it took time to pull everything together.
“We were fortunate to get the work done this year,” said Flynn. He said that Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks was able to put $50,000 into the restoration efforts but it would not have happened this year without the additional $25,000 contribution from the Friends of Fort Owen.
Chris Weatherly, a semi-retired carpenter skilled in historic restoration and a member of Friends of Fort Owen, said the old roof being replaced wasn’t all that old. He said it was maybe 50 years old. But it is supposed to be protecting one of the state’s most important historic structures and it was really in need of help. He said he had spent a lot of time assessing and documenting the progressive disintegration and needed repairs at the Fort, like the faulty flashing on the chimneys that was letting water leak through the roof into the rooms.
“I’m glad to see that the state is finally taking some action,” said Weatherly. “It was beyond the bandaid approach.”
Sue Kardaras and Ruth Baker, both members of the Friends of Fort Owen, said that the money was primarily raised through a grant from the Rapp Family Foundation although the group also raised funds with their own “Raise the Roof Fund” campaign at Creamery Picnic.
Sam Schwennesen of Timeline Construction was contracted for the job. It is the same company that worked on Traveler’s Rest State Park. According to Flynn, it was also more difficult and took longer to find the right materials and get them to the site than it usually does. He attributed the difficulties in part to the disruptions, especially in the transportation sector, due to the pandemic. Flynn said they were also able to get a new roof on the Wagner Cabin at the Fort Owen Park as well this summer.
The park has been closed during the construction process. Installation of a new parking lot at the Fort is also scheduled to begin this coming spring. Flynn said that the park would probably re-open in late May or June of 2021.
Sue Kardaras and Ruth Baker, both members of Friends of Fort Owen were on hand last week to witness the installation of a new roof on the old East Barracks at Fort Owen State Park. The Friends were instrumental in securing a $25,000 grant from the Rapp Family Foundation to help fund the restoration project. Photo by Michael Howell.