The Park At Ucross
Dedicated July 1, 2011
The architectural design of the Ucross Chapel was inspired by a beloved chapel at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935. That stunning chapel has been called “the most photographed church in New Zealand.” Ucross Foundation Founder and Chairman Raymond Plank has admired it while visiting close friends in New Zealand, as has Raymond’s family and longtime Ucross board member Terry Johansen and his family. When it came time to choose the final design for the Ucross Chapel, it was unanimously agreed that a small stone chapel would be perfect at the heart of the historic Ucross cattle ranch – a beautiful new landmark made of beautiful old materials.
The chapel was designed by Jeff Robertson who runs Home Site Designers in Billings, Montana, and it was built by Piney Creek Construction of Buffalo, Wyoming. Construction was led by Michael Plank, who has overseen the construction and renovation of every Ucross Foundation facility, including historic Big Red, since the Foundation’s beginning thirty years ago. His crew includes Mitch Asay and Jason Asay of Buffalo.
Most of the stones on the Ucross Chapel’s exterior came from the Great Falls area of Montana. They were collected from old 1800s homesteads in the region; as farmers cleared fields to farm, these rocks were pushed aside. The rest of the stones – more reddish in color – came from an area close to the Missouri River. Some of those stones are likely to have been underwater in the Missouri at some point. The stonework was done by Bob Hruza of Tongue River Masonry in Dayton, who has also done the stonework for the Ucross Foundation’s visual arts studios and one composer’s studio known as Jesse’s Hideout Two.
The chapel walls are hand-hewn timbers and all of the wood used in the chapel is reclaimed wood, including the rafters and ridge beam which are reclaimed fir. The pews came from an old church in Buffalo and were refinished to suit the new chapel’s interior.
The light fixture, designed by Jeff Robertson, was built by Andy Parent of Billings. Andy also fabricated the hardware on the chapel’s front door, as well as the grilles on the windows. The windows were built by Marvin Windows, through the careful organization of Blake Laughlin of Yellowstone Woodshop. His crew also built the front door.
Glass artist Nancie Furnish, owner of Goose Creek Art Glass in Sheridan, created the stained glass window. Nancie’s family includes three generations of glass artists; she was assisted by her son Daniel Furnish. The window is made primarily of glass from one of the oldest existing glass companies in the country, which made over 40% of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass. The design was inspired by Raymond Plank’s lifelong commitment to trees and to celebrate the natural beauty of Wyoming.
Landscaping around the chapel area is being directed by Carl Thuesen ASLA of Billings. He will also be overseeing the landscaping of the larger park area. Mark Bede’s crew at Highland, Inc. in Sheridan has been implementing the landscaping designs. Ucross Foundation’s horticulture manager Carol Melver and her staff, especially Marty Jelly, is planting and caring for trees in the park, and keeping the grounds mowed.
Work has already begun on a new feature of the park – the construction of a new building that will house the archives of Raymond Plank, the Ucross Foundation and the cattle ranch.