Shelter on the trail: Timber framers create shady spots to rest along riverfront

By Keila Szpaller/Missoulian

Timber Shelters in Silver Park at Old Sawmill District

Their toil means others can rest a while, shaded at the edge of the Clark Fork River. In the last couple of weeks, instructors with the Timber Framers Guild and timber framers from around the country landed in Missoula and put up three shelters at the Old Sawmill District, the former Champion mill site.

“This is it. You walk away and there’s no greater sense of accomplishment than you’ve left something behind that could be here for 100 years,” said Charlie Blend, a timber framer and woodworker from Virginia.

One shelter, sponsored by the F. Morris and Helen Silver Foundation, is made of 88 separately cut pieces of wood. Another, adopted by the Tandberg family whose name means “craggy mountain” in Norwegian, has four small painted designs cut into the wood, a butte and peak from Montana and two Norway landscapes. In a third, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Missoula, a small wheel graces one post and a little tree branch tops one roof corner.

The tree branch is a tribute to the gods, a symbol of a finish. The person who put the most heart into the structures had the privilege of securing it to the building, Blend said. That person was Jennifer Anthony, the project creator and an engineer with Fearless Engineers. She’s a (currently) sleep-deprived “timber framer enabler” who has logged more than 1,200 volunteer hours on the project so far.

Most of the crew, some five instructors and roughly 30 volunteers, have left, but Tuesday morning, a contractor pounded long nails into the roof of one of the covered benches cut from old logs. Blend, Anthony and a roofer were at the site, where they have nearly finished erecting the new shelters made of Bonner sinker logs, wood salvaged from a building that once stood nearby and corrugated metal from the old city shops building.

For Anthony, who thought up the idea for shelters during a late-night walk around the property, the structures are a way to pay tribute to the site’s history. For the timber framers, the construction is a way to pass on a craft. For Blend, the endeavor also became a personal one, a step toward soothing the pain of losing his 13-year-old golden retriever named Raliegh.

Anthony, who lives in the neighborhood, said she came up with the idea for the shelters late one night when she was “technically trespassing” on the property with her dogs. She thought of a murder that happened there and chastised herself.

“This is probably the stupidest thing you’ve ever done,” Anthony said.

Then one of her dogs, Kyzyl, a Karelian bear-looking pound dog, ran into one of the old buildings that used to sit on the property. With the building in her sights, Anthony, a timber frame engineer, started thinking about the lovely things that could happen on the land instead. She decided she wanted material from that structure to be reused at the site in timber frame construction, and the idea was born.

The total project cost $200,000, Anthony said. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency paid for the timbers. Anthony and others raised nearly $50,000 in cash donations. Many, many people contributed sweat equity and gave food, housing, equipment and machinery, she said. Timber framers, of course, worked their tails off.

Blend, who graduated from the University of Montana in 1976 and always dreamed of returning to Missoula, said he likes the community fostered by the Timber Framers Guild. People are open, friendly, patient and cooperative, he said. The younger builders are eager to learn from the older generation of framers, who are willing to share – and also like the help from their strapping counterparts.

“We let them do the heavy lifting. We’ve learned something in our old age,” Blend said.

This isn’t Blend’s first timber frame project. With Raliegh at his side, he helped build a pavilion in Virginia, a boat house in New York and a barn in Vermont. But three weeks ago, the friendly pooch who had been a greeter at construction sites and even gnawed his mark on lumber had a stroke and then died.

In Missoula, Blend was without his loyal friend, but he found some comfort, too. At the home where he stayed free of charge – and where Raliegh was going to stay – two golden retrievers met him at the door and have hardly left his side.

Blend plans to return next year to help build the fourth structure, a larger pavilion. Many hands have pitched in so far, though Anthony said not as many local volunteers as she’d like to see next time around.

Anthony credits many including the following for their contributions: Home Resource; Curtis Milton, president of the board of directors of the Timber Framers Guild; Geoff Badenoch; Caleb Larson at Rugged Traditions Log and Timber Frame; Mark Gantt of Timber Builders in Hamilton; Coleen Rudio and the Missoula Downtown Association; Molly Galusha; Tom and Joanne Hershey; Susie Orr; Wild Mile Timber Framers; Summit Roofing; the Missoula Osprey and Ogren-Alliance Park; a neighborhood improvement grant; and architect James Hoffmann.

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