For years Luding had been complaining about the hikers who laid out their sleeping bags on the porches and breeze-ways of his chalet, used the toilet facilities, dumped their trash in the chalet's containers and contributed nothing to the exchequer. Such activities would have been a minor irritant to any resort operator, but they were major to Luding. He was not a rich man, his profit margin was narrow, and every last scrap of tin can and aluminum wrap and pop bottle that appeared on the premises had to be carried out on muleback at high expense. Luding had found himself and his employees spending half their time cleaning up after the squatters.
The concessionaire's loud and justified complaints finally brought action in 1964. A trail boss hiked into the area, observed the wooded flat bench several hundred yards below the chalet, and dubbed it The Granite Park Campground. Luding directed all future campers down to the bench, where they could sleep out under the stars. Soon the campground was being used regularly, but not by anyone who knew better.
When Tom Walton and his wife Nancy accepted the summer job at Granite Park Chalet, they had only the vaguest idea of what they were doing. For four previous summers the 23-year-old Walton had worked as a fire fighter, but this new opening at the remote and isolated Granite Park Chalet would offer him and his wife 24 hours of togetherness minus the dangers that came from roaring fires. So they accepted, and late in June 1967 they found themselves picking their way up the snowy trail on horseback. The chalet was half buried in drifts, even at this late date, but they were surprised to find no grizzly tracks. One of the ranger executives at headquarters had told them that he had made a few flights over the chalet earlier in the spring, and there had always been grizzlies around—once he had seen six on the chalet roof. Walton, a gentle person despite his fireplug build and his experience as a football lineman, was just as glad the bears were absent now.
For several days the Waltons worked almost around the clock, readying the chalet that they would help to manage all summer, along with Mrs. Eileen Anderson. The Waltons would take care of the guests, and Mrs. Anderson, a middle-aged woman from Minnesota, would boss a crew of girls who attended to everything else: kitchen work, bedmaking and general housekeeping. It fell to Tom Walton to fire up a small incinerator the Park Service had installed the year before for burning garbage. The park engineers had purchased the gas-fired incinerator with the hope that its use would halt the bad publicity resulting from the dumping of garbage near the chalet. Garbage attracted bears, and this violated the No. 1 canon of normal park management: Do Not Feed the Animals. The government had spent a mere $84 on the device; the firebox was only as big as four or five shoe boxes.
The 1966 season was not very old when the chalet staff found the incinerator was not only too small, but the clouds of stench that curled into the rooms of the guests made many of them threaten to abandon the premises for good. The perturbed Ross Luding had thrown his hands in the air and told his kitchen help to do the best they could with the incinerator and throw the remaining leftovers out on the old garbage dump.
"It wasn't so bad," Luding commented later. "All day long you'd see the squirrels out there eating the stuff, and the birds would come, and once in a while you'd see a deer and they would clean up most of the stuff during the daytime. Then the bears'd come in at night and clean up the rest. Why, my goodness, there was nothing so new or dangerous about it. Why, when I first took over the chalet 14 or 15 years before, the grizzlies came in every day and nobody ever got hurt."
Tom Walton found that the incinerator had not grown any over the winter. It would barely burn away the garbage of the eight or 10 members of the chalet staff. Walton told his wife that as soon as the guests began arriving another system would have to be figured out. The Waltons had been told to avoid dumping too much garbage in the gully behind the chalet because that would attract grizzlies and grizzlies would be dangerous to the guests.
The young couple had given little thought to the big bears in the general busyness of their first two or three days in the lonely place. Everyone had told them that they would see grizzlies galore during the summer; indeed, grizzlies were the main attraction at the chalet and everybody for miles around knew it. They also knew why: the grizzlies came for the garbage. When tourists would check in at the visitors' centers at St. Mary and Rising Sun and Logan Pass and the ranger headquarters on the west side, they would soon find out that the most exciting trip in the park was the one to Granite Park Chalet to see the grizzlies.
But after several days the Waltons began to wonder, and a few members of the housekeeping staff, mostly young girls, began to worry. "Tom," one of them said one night, "we haven't even seen a sign of a bear. Maybe they're not gonna show up this summer."
By the third night the chalet staff was intact and everything was in readiness for the guests who would begin arriving shortly after the official opening on July 1. It was nearly midnight. Two of the girls were sitting around downstairs drinking a final cup of coffee, and the Waltons were almost asleep in their room just above, when the door to the outside began banging. A very annoyed Tom Walton climbed out of bed to secure the lock. He opened the door momentarily and flicked his flashlight beam down the backstairs and picked up the bright orange eyes of a big animal. He realized that he was looking at a grizzly, standing on top of a snowdrift not 20 feet away, and he slammed the door and locked it. "Don't go out there!" he shouted through the cracks in the floor. "There's a grizzly outside!" The girls' response was to jump up, run out the door and begin searching for the animal. Luckily, it had fled.