Of the two million visitors to Glacier National Park this year, only a fraction are likely to trek into the backcountry to stay at the Sperry Chalet, a 93-year-old stone hotel reachable only by foot. There they will be able to rest their posteriors on one of the most expensive outhouses in the country: a solar-powered, state-of-the-art composting toilet with a construction price tag of about $1 million.

In 1992 NPS officials closed the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets due to faulty septic systems, and the park planned to raze the two structures. But local citizens and hikers protested destruction of the landmarks, and Montana’s federal delegation succeeded in earmarking funds to save the chalets.

The plan was to install the high-tech toilets, which were supposed to compost human waste over a period of three years, after which Park personnel would remove the composted material by helicopter or horseback. Completed in 1998, the toilets were supposed to minimize helicopter traffic. But at a meeting with the Glacier Park Foundation last week, superintendent Mick Holm told the group the toilets aren’t working as planned. According to at least one person present at the meeting, Holm said engineers hadn’t taken into account that there aren’t enough warm days at the site for composting to work properly. (Holm couldn’t be reached, but Lisa Turecek, deputy chief of facility management for the park, confirmed the information. A source close to the project told the Independent the problem more likely lies with a poorly engineered system.) Either way, the result is the same: the toilet will have to be emptied each year by helicopter after all.

So what did American taxpayers get for their $1 million? A hole in the ground steadily filling up with crap. Which just raises one question: Are we exporting this technology? Cos what the world really needs now is a hole in the…oh, never mind…

•••

Speaking of money well spent, we sure got our fill of funnel cakes and Wisconsin cheese curds at the Western Montana Fair last week. But one things strikes us as unusual (actually… this is the fair we’re talking about, several things struck us as unusual): We’ve all gotten used to going to sporting events and concerts where the beer giants own the taps (Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Denver’s Coors Field), but after browsing exhibits of Montana-baked pies, canned goods, and fry bread, we were thirsty for some Western Montana beers. Only we couldn’t find them, and it seemed odd that our local suds would be AWOL at the annual exhibition of all things Montana. According to the Missoula County Tavern Owners Association, the organization that lines up the beer contracts, the main reason for their absence is that local brews aren’t canned, and glass bottles are prohibited. Oh well, come to think of it, given this week’s feature we probably didn’t need any more beer anyway. Cheers!

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